Study: Taxpayers Targeted at Higher Rates Under Democratic Presidents

Individual, corporate income tax returns audited more under Democrats

John Koskinen
John Koskinen / AP
January 26, 2016

The Internal Revenue Service targets individual taxpayers and corporations for audits at higher rates when Democrats are in control of the White House, according to a study highlighted by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The study by Sutirtha Bagchi, an assistant professor of economics at Villanova University, examined IRS budget and personnel figures dating back to 1978 to determine "whether presidential administrations use executive power to affect IRS resources and priorities and thus influence the effective tax rate to support their larger policy goals," according to the Shorenstein Center.

The study found a statistically significant correlation between the party of the president and the number of individual income tax returns audited by the IRS. On average, four percent more individual income tax audits were performed under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.

Corporate income tax audits were found to be five percent higher under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.

The study found that the party in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate had no statistical impact on the frequency of audits.

Harvard’s Shorenstein Center highlighted the study as the IRS faces criticism for targeting conservative groups that sought tax-exempt status before the 2012 presidential election.

Despite variation in the number of audits, the study concluded that the president’s party and the party in control of the House of Representatives does not significantly impact the size of the IRS’s budget and workforce.

However, the study found an increased IRS budget and workforce when Democrats control the Senate. Additionally, the president’s party was shown to have a statistically significant impact on the number of enforcement personnel employed by the IRS when the House of Representatives and Senate are both controlled by Democrats.

"During the heyday of the IRS scandal, when conservative groups critical of President Obama saw their applications for tax exempt status delayed, questioned or killed, Democrats controlled the House and Senate," Washington Examiner reporter Paul Bedard noted.

On Monday, Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, named IRS Commissioner John Koskinen its 2015 "Porker of the Year" due to a "long litany of incompetence and obstruction" as head of the agency.

"Over the course of several hearings investigating the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Commissioner Koskinen repeatedly stonewalled and mislead members of Congress during the search for Lois Lerner’s emails, while refusing to ensure that IRS targeting would never happen again," the group said.

"His agency, in the face of a congressional subpoena, erased backup tapes containing as many as 24,000 emails from Lerner. Worse yet, a July 23, 2015 Government Accountability Office report found that more than two years after the scandal gained national attention, ‘the IRS has not taken sufficient steps to prevent targeting Americans based on their personal beliefs.’"

Investigators at the Government Accountability Office warned earlier this month that the IRS could still inappropriately target organizations due to deficiencies in how they are selected for audits.

"The control deficiencies increase the risk of selecting organizations for audit in an unfair manner—for example, based on an organization’s religious, educational, political, or other views," a GAO investigator said.

The IRS could not be reached for comment.

Published under: IRS , Taxes