DOJ Settles With Conservative Groups ‘Improperly Targeted’ by IRS

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions / Getty Images

The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it has entered into settlements with conservative groups that were "improperly targeted" by the IRS over their applications for tax-exempt status.

The settlements, which are pending approval by federal district courts, pertain to two cases.

One case, Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, contains claims brought by 41 plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The other case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. Internal Revenue Service, was a class action suit that included 428 plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report in 2013 finding that, during the Obama administration, the IRS had subjected conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny and delays. Former IRS official Lois Lerner said that same year that the agency improperly delayed some groups from obtaining non-profit status because their "applications had [Tea Party or Patriots] in the title."

The revelations triggered multiple lawsuits and congressional investigations into the matter.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday released a statement condemning the IRS for targeting conservative groups.

"There is no excuse for this conduct," he said. "Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today's settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated."

"It should also be without question that our First Amendment prohibits the federal government from treating groups differently based solely on their viewpoint or ideology," he added. "But it is now clear that during the last administration, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to screen applications for 501(c) status."

"These criteria included names such as ‘Tea Party,' ‘Patriots,' or ‘9/12' or policy positions concerning government spending or taxes, education of the public to ‘make America a better place to live,' or statements criticizing how the country was being run," Sessions explained. "It is also clear these criteria disproportionately impacted conservative groups."

The attorney general said that consideration for tax-exempt status should be "based on the activities of the organization and whether they fulfill requirements of the law, not the policy positions adopted by members or the name chosen to reflect those views."