WASHINGTON –- The head of the IRS on Friday insisted that tea party groups were not targeted for extra scrutiny, but were caught up in a clumsy dragnet by government employees trying to take shortcuts to being more efficient.
Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller's frequent refrain was that of the 298 applications for 501(c)(4) nonprofit status that were selected by IRS agents for further screening, only about 70 were tea party groups.
The actual numbers are a little different than what Miller, who has resigned, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee, according to the report from the IRS inspector general. The report, released this week, showed that there were 72 tea party groups, 11 with the phrase "9/12" in their name, and 13 with "patriots" in their name. So there were 96 tea party-type groups, and 202 groups of other types, that got extra IRS attention.
"Organizations from all walks and all persuasions were pulled in," Miller said. He insisted in his opening statement that the targeting of tea party groups was "not an act of partisanship."
So far, there is at least one example of a liberal group receiving the same treatment as the conservative groups -– secondary screening and invasive questions for more information. But a flood of examples has not yet materialized.
But there are three problems with Miller's assertion that conservative tea party groups were not singled out disproportionately with unfair treatment:
1. The list of 298 groups is not public, so we don't know the other groups that are undergoing secondary screening. House Republicans have asked the IRS for the names of all groups under special review, but the IRS has said it is forbidden by the federal code from releasing the information. That of course didn't stop the IRS from leaking the names of nine conservative groups under review to ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism website, in November. Miller on Friday said this leak was "inadvertent," but did not explain further.
2. The IRS only issued one BOLO. There was only one political "be on the lookout," or BOLO, term from 2010 to 2012, an official with the inspector general's office told HuffPost. The only BOLO was the one relating to tea party groups. There were no political search terms for liberal or progressive groups.
"There were other BOLOs issued during this time," the inspector general official said. "This was the only BOLO that referred to potential political cases and had anything to do with political criteria."
Miller admitted this under questioning from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). "So there were no 'progressive' or 'organizing' buzzwords that were used for targeting, is that correct?" Ryan asked Miller. "That's correct," Miller said.
3. No tea party group applications for non-profit status were approved for 27 months, staring in February 2010, while numerous liberal groups sailed through the process, USA Today reported this week.
Perhaps it will emerge that of the 202 non-tea party groups whose applications are being held up, a large number are liberal or progressive. But the fact that the tea party BOLO was the only search term with a political focus during this time period suggests that's unlikely.
Still, the question remains: Who are those other groups?
Ryan told HuffPost that some may be religious and anti-abortion groups.
"We're getting lots of credible, consistent allegations about religious organizations, from groups, of religious organizations being targeted," Ryan said.
When asked for specifics, Ryan referred HuffPost to Ways and Means Committee staff. A Ways and Means spokeswoman said she had no information readily available on the topic.