Stung by what he said was a false assurance that no conservative groups were targeted for extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) on Thursday asked President Obama for information on whether his administration pressured appointees to go after political opponents.
IRS officials revealed last week that groups with words or phrases in their names such as "Tea Party," "patriot," and "limited government" for more than two years were told to provide extensive information about their members and had to wait long periods to get approval of tax-exempt status.
Mr. Portman said he wanted information on what, if any, private pressure was exerted by the White House or Treasury Department political appointees on the IRS regarding approving and monitoring tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organizations.
In the letter, Mr. Portman told the President that he was disturbed by the administration's use of phrases such as "shadowy" and "a threat to our democracy" to describe organizations engaged in political advocacy.
“It is easy to imagine how such rhetoric from the top could possibly influence the work of an Executive Branch agency,” he wrote. He also accused the President of pursuing policies that "that threaten to chill disfavored political speech."
Mr. Portman told reporters in a telephone conference call Thursday that he had written a letter to the head of the IRS in March, 2012, passing along complaints from conservative groups and was told in response that there was no special targeting.
"The response not only said there was nothing wrong but it said there was no targeting. A year later we're now learning the truth," Mr. Portman said.
Mr. Portman said he did not know whether the IRS's actions focusing on conservative groups could have been significant enough to change the outcome of the presidential election.
The IRS's Cincinnati office handles applications for tax exemption, which is allowed for organizations that exist exclusively for the promotion of the social welfare of the community. During the 2012 election there were claims from the Democratic side that conservatives were using tax-exempt groups to get Republicans elected and to avoid disclosing the names of donors.
Conservative groups said they were given voluminous information requests such as lists of donors and members, explanation of "your organization's involvement in the Tea Party," lists of issues of importance to the group, and their positions on those issues.
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