IRS Officials Counseled White House on Contraception Mandate

Sent confidential taxpayer info, redaction indicates

Sarah Hall Ingram / AP
October 9, 2013

A top Internal Revenue Service official appears to have sent confidential taxpayer information to White House officials and counseled the executive staff on legal challenges from groups who claimed Obamacare infringed on their religious liberties, emails released Wednesday reveal.

Emails released by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform show Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS’ top Obamacare official, advised White House officials about the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Redactions in the emails indicate they also contained confidential taxpayer information.

The GOP-led oversight committee said the emails show Hall Ingram and others at the IRS violated the agency’s role as an impartial administrator of the tax code by advising the White House on a politically controversial subject.

Scores of religious organizations sued the Obama administration in 2012 over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

For example, Wheaton College in Illinois filed suit against the administration on July 18, 2012.  Hall Ingram and her colleagues emailed with senior White House officials about the administration’s religious exemption to the contraception mandate the same day.

Several names and blocks of text are redacted in the emails, citing section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits the IRS agents from releasing tax return information.

"Thanks, David. Thanks for the information on [6103]," White House official Jeanne Lambrew wrote to the IRS’ David Fish in a July 20, 2012 exchange. "I am still hoping to understand whether the 50 percent rule is moot if the organization does not offer goods and services for sale to the general public. Do we assume that organizations like [6103] do offer goods and services for sale?"

Another email from White House health policy adviser Ellen Montz to Hall Ingram and others refers to the "[6103] memo" and the "[6103] letter" while discussing organizations that are not required to file 990s.

Testifying before the oversight committee Wednesday, Hall Ingram said she could not recall what was underneath the redactions, but she said she was simply advising the White House on the current rules.

"I was not involved in litigation or regulation decisions," Hall Ingram said.

A change to the rules surrounding the contraception mandate made in August loosened the requirements to obtain a one-year exemption from the mandate, and many of the lawsuits, including Wheaton’s, were dismissed.

The IRS public affairs office is closed due to the shutdown of the federal government, so it was not available for comment.

Cause of Action, a nonprofit government watchdog group currently in litigation with the IRS over similar documents, said it would be on par with Watergate if the Obama White House illicitly obtained taxpayer information.

"If in fact the White House received confidential taxpayer information, then we have a White House that is complicit in the biggest violation of the law since Nixon," said Dan Epstein, Cause of Action executive director.

Cause of Action filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents sought by the White House from the IRS that fell under section 6103. The IRS responded by saying it had "no record of request from the White House or President of the United States pursuant to IRS 6103(g)(1)."

The IRS response would seem to indicate that the agency is either stonewalling Cause of Action or stonewalling a congressional investigation.

Issa has requested unredacted versions of the emails, citing a prohibition from using section 6103 "for the purpose of concealing information from a congressional inquiry."

Before heading the IRS office in charge of implementing Obamacare, Hall Ingram was in charge of the the office responsible for overseeing tax-exempt nonprofit groups, the same office at the heart of the IRS "targeting" scandal.

As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, the oversight committee’s investigation of the IRS targeting scandal also revealed that top officials were using private email accounts to send confidential taxpayer information.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) grilled Hall Ingram over the lack of transparency.

"In that correspondence that resulted in most of those cases being dismissed, you shared personal taxpayer information with the White House," Jordan said. "And now under the Affordable Care Act, Americans have to give personal information to the IRS—to the same organization that potentially shared all kinds of information with the White House political people. That’s what people are nervous about. That’s what scares a lot of people."

"I cannot answer what is under those blocks, so I can’t answer whether that information originated with the White House," Hall Ingram responded.

"So it was OK for political White House to get the unredacted version from the same entity that targeted groups who came into existence because they opposed the Affordable Care Act, but Congress can’t get it?" Jordan continued. "That’s unbelievable."