Federal judge calls IRS untrustworthy
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A federal appeals court judge dubbed the IRS not trustworthy during oral argument Thursday as he and his colleagues tried to figure out whether tea party targeting is still going on.
Dozens of groups say the IRS not only treated them badly in the past, but the agency continues to subject them to special monitoring and intrusive scrutiny, damaging their reputation among potential donors and making it more likely the groups will face an audit because of their political beliefs.
The IRS insisted it has retrained its employees and instructed managers to behave better, but the panel of judges on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia did not seem convinced.
“It’s hard to find the IRS to be an agency we can trust,” said Judge David B. Sentelle.
The lawyer for the IRS at one point acknowledged there were still “potential problems” with the way the agency monitors cases going forward, but insisted the initial targeting at the point groups apply for nonprofit status has ended.
The IRS’s internal auditor reported in 2013 that the agency singled out tea party and conservative groups for special scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. Investigators said the groups were asked intrusive questions and subjected to waits that stretched into years, potentially denying them their rights.
IRS officials admitted they erred, but said the problem was bad training and confusion about a 2010 Supreme Court decision, not an intent to target groups for political purposes.
Yet three years after the targeting was exposed, at least two groups are still awaiting approval — their lawyer said they applied more than five years ago — and dozens of others say the IRS is still harming them with continued special monitoring. The groups also say the IRS has plans to make public all of the improper information the tax agency forced the groups to turn over during their applications.
A lower federal court rejected the groups’ claims, saying the IRS’s assurances it cleaned up its act made the cases generally moot.
But Judge Sentelle and Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, who sat during the oral argument Thursday, questioned that. A third panelist, Judge Karen L. Edwards, was absent from argument but will help decide the case.