IRS targeting scandal: Liberal organizations are angry, too

(CBS News) CINCINNATI - In the run up to the last election, dozens of new political organizations tried to get tax-exempt status from the IRS by claiming that they were really social welfare groups. The IRS had to investigate whether each organization was actually spending most of its time on social welfare or politics.

The IRS has admitted it targeted conservative groups -- but what about liberals?

Jeff Cohen's leads Action for a Progressive Future, a left-leaning political organization.
Jeff Cohen's leads Action for a Progressive Future, a left-leaning political organization.
CBS News

When Jeff Cohen's left-leaning Action for a Progressive Future applied for an IRS tax exemption, the process was too long and too slow, he says. But it was much easier for him than it was for tea party groups.

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Cohen answered nine IRS questions, many of them about the politics of his website, but he was approved after 18 months.

By contrast, tea party groups faced dozens of questions and many are still waiting for approval after two-and-a-half years.

"I'm for the IRS toughly probing all groups applying for tax exempt status. But they shouldn't scrutinize certain groups because they're on the left or the right," Cohen said.

According to the Treasury Inspector General's report, IRS scrutiny of the tea party began in 2010, in the tax exemption unit based in Cincinnati.

Specialists in charge of denying tax exemptions to groups whose mission is primarily political began screening applications using three search terms: "tea party," "9/12" and "patriot." In fact, the report says the words, "tea party" became the "shorthand term for all potential political cases." Jeff Cohen calls the targeting of anyone's politics appalling.

"Because remember, if groups who have the name 'tea party' in their name, those words, can be targeted now. In a few years groups with the word 'progressive' in their name could be targeted by the IRS. It's wrong in either case."

While the report calls the search terms "inappropriate" it still concludes the Cincinnati office was "not politically biased." Of the 298 organizations the office reviewed, only a third was triggered by conservative search terms. Two thirds were not. However, every tea party group was reviewed.

What's missing in the Inspector General's report is the question of why the searches lacked political balance. The investigators call the use of the search terms wrong---but Scott--they don't report asking why all the terms specifically targeted the right.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.