WASHINGTON — Conservative groups who were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service are getting their say on Capitol Hill just as the details of another IRS controversy are being made public.
The leaders of six conservative groups were scheduled to tell lawmakers Tuesday about their mistreatment at the hands of IRS agents. Several of the groups say their applications for tax-exempt status were delayed while agents asked intrusive questions that the IRS has since acknowledged were inappropriate. One group, the National Organization for Marriage, says the IRS publicly disclosed confidential information about donors.
Leaders of the groups were scheduled to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee. Ways and Means is one of three congressional committees investigating the IRS' treatment of such groups. The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation.
For more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns, IRS agents in a Cincinnati office singled out tea party and other conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they sought tax-exempt status, according to a report by J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration.
The report said tea party groups were asked inappropriate questions about their donors, their political affiliations and their positions on political issues. The additional scrutiny delayed applications for an average of nearly two years, making it difficult for many of the groups to raise money.
George was scheduled to release another report Tuesday, one that said the IRS spent $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012.
The conference spending included $4 million for an August 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which requested the report.
Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites that normally cost $1,500 to $3,500 a night. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about "leadership through art," the committee said.
"I am absolutely appalled at the apparent waste of taxpayer dollars on frivolous conferences," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "It seems we have a new misstep every day at the IRS."
Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel has called the conferences "an unfortunate vestige from a prior era."
Werfel took over the agency about two weeks ago, after President Barack Obama forced the previous acting commissioner to resign.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday the president had not seen the forthcoming report. But, Carney said, Obama believed the IRS conduct was inappropriate.
When Obama appointed Werfel as acting head of the IRS, he ordered him to conduct a 30-day review of the agency's operations.
"We must have the trust of the American taxpayer. Unfortunately, that trust has been broken," Werfel told a House Appropriations subcommittee Monday. "The agency stands ready to confront the problems that occurred, hold accountable those who acted inappropriately, be open about what happened and permanently fix these problems so that such missteps do not occur again."
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