Videos & Speeches
Late last week we learned of the apology by the Internal Revenue Service official about the targeting of certain information and applications for 501(c)(4) organizations in this country. Certainly the indication is that because of certain words generally considered to suggest that organization has conservative leanings, those organizations were targeted for different or additional treatment at the Internal Revenue Service. It was indicated there was an apology offered. This became a significant topic of conversation over the weekend by certain elected officials, certainly by my colleagues in the Senate but by the American people as well.
Last Wednesday, May 8, before this revelation was known, the Appropriations Subcommittee for Financial Services was holding its hearing--usually an annual affair—in which we were discussing the appropriations request in the President's budget for the Treasury Department. That gave me the opportunity to visit with Secretary Lew. Of course, the Internal Revenue Service is a component of the Treasury Department. My conversation with Secretary Lew during that hearing dealt with a related topic.
While I have great objection to targeting any group—liberal, conservative, Republican, Democratic-leaning—certainly the ability for us to examine an application is important. But none of us would expect or consider it to be appropriate that the Internal Revenue Service would treat one application different from another based upon its apparent political leanings.
While that is terrible enough, I also want to point out the topic I raised with the Secretary, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, last Wednesday. This comes from media reports and from complaints by organizations. The reason this seems so important is the admission that conservative groups were treated differently or one group was treated differently from another within the Internal Revenue Service lends credibility to press reports and to complaints by organizations across the country about their treatment by the IRS.
My questions to Secretary Lew, some of them that day but also submitted in writing since then, deal with a number of instances in which it was reported by an organization or a press report that the Internal Revenue Service improperly disclosed information about donors to 501(c)(4) organizations. Last April, the IRS apparently improperly disclosed schedule B donor lists on the form 990 of an organization called National Organizations for Marriage. It is an a 501(c)(4) group. While the form 990 is publicly available, tax laws and IRS regulations make clear that the schedule B—that is the donor list on the 990 is not to be released for 501(c)(3)s or (c)(4)s.
The issue was raised. The organization complained. It was reported in the press. Part of my inquiry to Secretary Lew is what has transpired since that point in time. Have the employees at the Internal Revenue Service who released this information been challenged for their actions? Have they been admonished? Have they been treated appropriately for what clearly seems to be an inappropriate release of private taxpayer information?
The second example was the IRS turned over several applications for nonprofit status, including the pending applications for tax-exempt status, for several groups. They were released and ended up in the hands of an organization called ProPublica. Again, while the applications for nonprofit status are available to the public after an exemption is granted, they are protected as tax return information while that application is pending. This organization then published that information, despite that that is what I understand to be a felony. Publishing unauthorized tax returns or return information is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison or a fine up to $5,000 or both. Again, my question of the Treasury Secretary is that I have not been able to confirm any action has been taken, any recommendation from the Treasury Department, the Justice Department, that anybody be prosecuted for publishing private taxpayer information.
Finally, we learned earlier this year, again, of something described as an inadvertent IRS disclosure related to releasing one page of the schedule B showing donors to the Republican Governors Association. These are alarming in and of themselves and become more significant to me, having learned that there is a bias, a treatment different of one taxpayer over another at the IRS. While it is important for us to determine, and I am anxious to read the inspector general's report as to the findings about what occurred with the singling out of certain organizations for a different kind of treatment at the IRS, I also think it is important for us to pursue the issue of the release of information that comes from one organization's filing that is inappropriate to release and ultimately its being used by an organization that apparently has a different political perspective than the one whose application is pending.
Again, I would raise this issue that now we know something is wrong at the IRS, there is more to be discovered as we look at how this information was released. Were people who released it punished? Is there any pending criminal action against the individuals who published this information? I am surprised by the circumstance we find ourselves in. I never would have expected this from the Internal Revenue Service, which must be, needs to be, and has to be above the political fray.
The IRS can never be an instrument of any political party, of any administration, or of any political philosophy. All Americans have the right to assume that the IRS, which has great powers and consequences upon the taxpayers of this country, is operating in a neutral, fair, and appropriate manner.
The circumstances now present themselves in a way that we have to wonder about more than just these three examples. These three examples are ones now worthy of additional concern by Members of the Senate, and, even more importantly, by the IRS and individuals within the administration who are responsible for the management and governance of the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department.
I have submitted a series of questions to Secretary Lew. As a member of the Appropriations Committee responsible for the Internal Revenue Service's appropriations, I look forward to seeing what those answers are and to make certain appropriate action is taken in regard to individuals who apparently have violated the public trust, with the understanding that all of us expect the privacy the Internal Revenue Service is to provide.
I want to once again outline that while we learned something over the weekend that is very troublesome, there may be much more to this story that has yet to be told, and I am anxious to see the answers that come from the Treasury Department in regard to the Internal Revenue Service.
In fact, I encourage all Members of the Senate to reach the same conclusion--no matter their political leaning or philosophical bent, whether Republican or Democrat—that the Internal Revenue Service with its tremendous enforcement capabilities and the tremendous consequences it has to the American people in the decisions it makes always be above the political fray.
Mr. President, I want to thank you for the opportunity to be on the Senate floor today to outline an extended concern I have about actions at the Internal Revenue Service. I anxiously wait for the Treasury Department to respond and provide answers to our subcommittee, committee, and the full Senate.