WASHINGTON (AP) — The leaders of six conservative groups who say they were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service told lawmakers Tuesday they have been mistreated for years by IRS agents who asked intrusive questions and delayed their applications for tax-exempt status.
The leader of a small South Carolina tea party group said her organization first applied for tax-exempt status in 2010 — and is still waiting for the application to be processed.
"Nearly three years in waiting for an answer is totally unacceptable," Dianne Belsom, president of the Laurens County Tea Party, said in prepared remarks. "The IRS needs to be fully investigated and held accountable for its incompetence harassment and targeting of conservative groups."
Belsom said her group in rural South Carolina has about 60 members and "seeks to educate ourselves and fellow citizens on various issues pertinent to living in a free country." The group also holds candidate forums in election years, she said.
"I'd like to note that our group is a small-time operation with very little money and this represents a complete waste of time by the IRS in terms of any money they would collect if we were not tax-exempt," Belsom said.
Another group, the National Organization for Marriage, said the IRS publicly disclosed confidential information about donors.
The House Ways and Means Committee called the groups to explain how these groups were treated by the IRS.
For more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns, IRS agents in a Cincinnati office singled out tea party and other conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they sought tax-exempt status, according to a report by J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration.
The report said tea party groups were asked inappropriate questions about their donors, their political affiliations and their positions on political issues. The additional scrutiny delayed applications for an average of nearly two years, making it difficult for many of the groups to raise money.
George was scheduled to release another report Tuesday, one that said the IRS spent $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012.
The conference spending included $4 million for an August 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which requested the report.
Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites that normally cost $1,500 to $3,500 a night. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about "leadership through art," the committee said.
"I am absolutely appalled at the apparent waste of taxpayer dollars on frivolous conferences," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "It seems we have a new misstep every day at the IRS."
Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel has called the conferences "an unfortunate vestige from a prior era."
Werfel took over the agency about two weeks ago, after President Barack Obama forced the previous acting commissioner to resign.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday the president had not seen the forthcoming report. But, Carney said, Obama believed the IRS conduct was inappropriate.
When Obama appointed Werfel as acting head of the IRS, he ordered him to conduct a 30-day review of the agency's operations.
"We must have the trust of the American taxpayer. Unfortunately, that trust has been broken," Werfel told a House Appropriations subcommittee Monday. "The agency stands ready to confront the problems that occurred, hold accountable those who acted inappropriately, be open about what happened and permanently fix these problems so that such missteps do not occur again."
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