Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Were two-thirds of groups targeted by IRS not conservative?

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., questions acting IRS director Steven Miller during a House committee hearing May 17, 2013.

Amid fallout from the IRS’s admission that it improperly targeted conservative groups, Democratic-leaning Progress Texas suggested the agency’s net was cast wider, tweeting that "2/3 of groups scrutinized were not conservatives," echoing its own earlier post on its website: "Two-thirds of those groups that received extra scrutiny from the IRS were not conservative."

Context: The IRS apologized May 10, 2013, for singling out tax-exemption applications from groups whose names included "tea party," "patriot" or "9/12." The organizations were seeking exemption from federal taxes either as charitable groups with IRS designation 501(c)3 or as social welfare groups, which are allowed to engage in limited political activity without disclosing donors, under IRS designation 501(c)4.

Since then, groups of varied political stripes including Progress Texas have spoken up to say their own applications drew extra scrutiny.

We asked how Progress Texas concluded that most of the groups were not conservative. Political director Phillip Martin told us by email that the statement was based on a May 12, 2013, Washington Post news story about a leaked report from the U.S. Treasury inspector general that the government released two days later.

The Post story said that according to the report, "Of the 298 groups selected for special scrutiny ... 72 had ‘tea party’ in their title, 13 had ‘patriot’ and 11 had ‘9/12.’ " That equaled 96 groups, Martin said, or 32.2 percent of the declared 298.

Were the other 202 groups nonconservative? Neither the report nor the story described those groups nor did we find evidence that their political leans have been established. Meantime, the IRS has said scrutinized groups without "tea party" in their names reflected "all political views," which presumably would fold in liberals to moderates to conservatives.

Upshot: The leans of other scrutinized groups are unknown and nothing has surfaced to indicate that all told, they were not conservative. This claim, at best a misread of a newspaper story and report, shakes out as inaccurate and smoky. We rated it Pants on Fire.

See the full write-up, and earlier checks of Progress Texas, to the right.