IRS: Progressive groups flagged, but tea party bigger target

Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel told Congress Thursday that progressive groups seeking tax-exempt status were inappropriately flagged by IRS officials, in addition to tea party and conservative groups.

At the same time, a letter from a Treasury Department watchdog to Congress suggests that while progressives were flagged, tea party groups were subject to a much higher level of scrutiny.

Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee, Werfel acknowledged that the word "progressive" did appear on a "be on the lookout" (BOLO) list that IRS officials used to target groups for further scrutiny.

"The types of political organizations on these BOLO lists are wide ranging, but they do include 'progressive,'" he said.

Meanwhile, in a letter released Thursday, J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA), noted that out of the 298 groups set aside for a closer look between May 2010 and May 2012, only six had the words "progress" or "progressive" in their names.

"In total, 30 percent of the organizations we identified with the words 'progress' or 'progressive' in their names were processed as potential political cases," George wrote to Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. "In comparison, our audit found that 100 percent of the tax-exempt applications with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were processed as potential political cases during the timeframe of our audit."

In Thursday's House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., urged any progressive or conservative groups with complaints about unfair IRS scrutiny to come forward. "It's clear the IRS is a broken agency that needs to answer to the American people," he said.

Nevertheless, Camp and other Republicans on the committee said that the emphasis put on conservative groups suggests there was intentional wrongdoing -- even though Werfel said he's found no evidence of that so far.

"To the question of how you found evidence of any intentional wrongdoing, the answer is no we have not," Werfel said. IRS officials "could be mistaken, they could be incompetent... in how they think they are appropriately carrying out their duties," he said, "which is different than saying, 'I know this is wrong but I'm going to carry it out anyways because of my agenda."