The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) shared confidential tax records from several tea party groups with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), emails obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch reveal.
Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division at the heart of the agency’s targeting scandal, sent the FEC records from several conservative groups, including the American Future Fund and the American Issues Project. Federal privacy laws heavily protect tax returns and associated documents.
"These extensive emails and other materials provide a disturbing window into the activities of two out-of-control federal agencies: the IRS and FEC," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. "And there is the very real question as to whether these documents evidence a crime."
Judicial Watch obtained the emails from the FEC through an Aug. 9, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
In a Feb. 3, 2009 email chain, an FEC enforcement division attorney asked Lerner for information about the American Future Fund and several other conservative organizations.
Lerner emailed back, writing, "I have sent your email out to some of my staff. Will get back to you as soon as I have heard from them."
According to Judicial Watch, Lerner then sent the FEC detailed information about the American Future Fund, including annual tax returns (Forms 990), requests for exempt recognition forms, articles of organization, and other correspondence between the nonprofit and the IRS.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, it is a felony for IRS officials to release taxpayer return information outside of the agency. For example, the Treasury Department will not release the results of investigations into unauthorized disclosures, even if they are requested by the party whose tax returns were allegedly leaked.
Earlier this month, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform revealed that senior Internal Revenue Service officials—including Lerner—violated agency policies and possibly federal records laws by using private email to send confidential taxpayer information.
Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa (R., Calif.), in a Sept. 30 letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel, said an investigation revealed a "troubling pattern" of at least four top IRS officials using their private email addresses to relay confidential tax information.
"This not only raises the prospect of violations of the Federal Records Act but it also raises data security concerns and violates internal IRS policies," Issa wrote to Werfel.
Issa said the committee’s investigation produced more than 1,600 pages of emails and documents housed in Lerner’s nonofficial email account related to IRS business, including nearly 30 pages of confidential taxpayer information. Included in the material was a summary of an application for tax-exempt status the IRS instructed Lerner’s legal counsel to redact.
Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify before the Oversight Committee earlier this year. She retired last month while an internal IRS probe was still ongoing, guaranteeing her a federal pension.