IRS Officials Reportedly Knew of Crackdown on Tea Party Groups as Early as 2011

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An Internal Revenue Service crackdown on nonprofit political organizations that use their special status to avoid taxes and disclosure may be in jeopardy, as Republican lawmakers accuse the IRS of singling out conservative organizations for scrutiny.

Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, apologized publicly after it was revealed that organizations with “tea party,” “patriot,” and “9/12 Project” in their names had been singled out for scrutiny, and claimed she had not been aware of the practice, which had been instigated by low-level employees. But this week, it was learned that Lerner was briefed about the practice as early as June 2011.

Representative Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) said “the conclusion that the IRS came to is that they did have agents who were engaged in intimidation of political groups is as dangerous a problem the government can have.”

During the 2012 election, tax-exempt political organizations spent an estimated $254 million on the presidential and congressional races. With the success of Republican operative Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS political group, hundreds of similar conservative groups formed.

None of these groups are required to disclose their donors.

Lerner said that some 300 groups were singled out for additional review; about 50 had the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their applications. About 150 of the cases have been closed, with no group having its tax-exempt status rejected, although some groups withdrew their applications.

The White House said that if the inspector general finds any evidence of wrongdoing, that “swift and appropriate steps will be taken to address any misconduct.”

Sources: ABC News, USA Today.