A top Democratic congressman said Monday the Internal Revenue Service targeted liberal political groups as well as conservative ones when it inappropriately scrutinized their applications for tax exempt status.
In addition to "tea party," "patriots" and "9/12," the IRS also told agents to be on the lookout for groups with "progressive" in their name, said Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., according to CNN. Levin made the statement after members of Congress were allowed to see the applicant screening lists used by the IRS.
An internal IRS review of the events that led to the controversy, also released Monday, did not mention the specific keywords used to target groups, but acting IRS chief Daniel Werfel wrote, "there was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum."
The IRS scandal has provided political ammunition to Republicans who claim President Barack Obama's administration sought to target conservatives based on their political views. Conservatives have vowed to investigate the root of the directives, hoping to link it to the White House or Obama directly.
But thus far, all reports and investigations have indicated that IRS workers located in Cincinnati, Ohio, made the decisions that led to extensive questioning and delayed decisions on the groups' applications. And the revelation that some liberal groups were pulled out for additional scrutiny will likely do little to quell the partisan angst the scandal has fueled.
Werfel, who took over for Steven Miller as IRS director following the agency's admission of wrongdoing, said in his report that while most IRS employees do their job well, a series of mismanagement and poor decision-making led to the problems. He also echoed criticisms made by tax experts and campaign finance critics of the country's complicated tax code involving groups seeking 501(c)(4) status.
"It has been a common refrain from Congress and the public that the rules that are applicable for 501(c)(4) eligibility are ambiguous and confusing, both for the taxpayer and for the staff within the IRS whose responsibility it is to administer those laws and regulations," Werfel said.
Groups applying for this status are expected to "operate exclusively for the promotion of social welfare," according to the tax code, but can also spend unlimited amounts of money on political activity, as long as it does not become the group's "primary" purpose.
Werfel said greater clarity on how to enforce the law or detailing of what counts as appropriate activity would be helpful in avoiding future issues, but admits the messy and confusing laws are not solely to blame for the agency's errors.
"The lack of clarity did not cause the inappropriate screening and poor managerial oversight noted in the [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's] report, nor does it excuse them," he said. "But we do believe that it played a role in the lengthy delays in at least some of the determinations associated with these cases."
Investigations by congressional committees and the Department of Justice are ongoing.