IRS Targeting Scandal Timeline

[UPDATE 5/18: Blogger Doug Ross has compiled a handy spreadsheet of the IRS scandal timeline. Thanks, Doug!]


Two new timelines have appeared, helping us understand the rapidly unfolding IRS targeting scandal.

The first, from Senate Finance Committee Republicans, covers the period from the initial targeting decision to the 2012 election.

The second, by CBS news, runs through this week. 

(Note: The Cincinnati IRS “office” is not a local office. It is the headquarters of the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Division.)


Here’s the Senate Finance timeline (quoted here in full):

Timeline of Key Events Surrounding IRS Targeting of Conservative Groups 

March 1, 2010:  An IRS manager in Cincinnati, Ohio asks employees to begin searching for 501(c) tax exemption applications using the terms Tea Party, Patriots and 9/12 as their criteria.

April 1, 2010:  Managers in Washington, DC and Cincinnati decide to send a “Sensitive Case Report” about the Tea Party cases up the chain in Washington.

April 19, 2010:  The Sensitive Case Report is shared with two executives in Washington, DC, one of whom is Lois Lerner and the other her immediate subordinate.  

August 12, 2010:  The IRS creates a “BOLO” (Be on the Lookout) listing instructing agents to identify Tea Party case files.

December 13, 2010:  A manager for the Exempt Organizations (EO) group at the IRS in Washington informs the manager in Cincinnati that the processing of Tea Party cases would soon be reviewed with the Senior Technical Advisor to Lois Lerner, the Director of EO.  

June 1, 2011: The Acting Director of Rulings and Agreements in Washington, DC, Lois Lerner’s immediate subordinate, asks the manager in Cincinnati for the criteria used to identify Tea Party groups.

June 29, 2011:  The Director of EO in Washington, DC, Lois Lerner, is briefed that the criteria being used by employees includes “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” “9/12 Project,” “Government Spending,” “Government Debt,” “Taxes,” “make America a better place to live,” and cases with statements that criticize how the country is being run.

July 5, 2011:  The BOLO listing criteria is revised to search for “organizations involved in political, lobbying, or advocacy.”   

January 25, 2012:  The BOLO is updated to change the search criteria to “limiting/expanding Government,” “Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” and “social economic reform/movement.”

March 12, 2012: Senator Chuck Schumer sends a letter to IRS Commissioner Shulman along with six of his Democrat colleagues, calling for the agency to impose a strict cap on the amount of political spending by tax-exempt, nonprofit groups. 

March 14, 2012: 12 Republican Senators urge the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to prevent politics from playing a role in any action taken on non-profit 501(c)(4) organizations.

March 22, 2012: IRS Commissioner Shulman testifies before the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee saying, “I can give you assurances..[t]here is absolutely no targeting [of conservative groups].”

March 23 – 27, 2012:  Steven Miller, Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement, asks his Senior Technical Advisor to look into what was going on in the Cincinnati office regarding Tea Party applications.

April 26, 2012: Steven Miller Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement sends response to March 14th GOP letter.  The letter does not acknowledge that the IRS had inappropriately targeted tea party groups or asked improper questions about their contributors.

May 3, 2012 – Steven Miller Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement is briefed that these conservative groups had been targeted by the IRS.

May 2012 – TIGTA briefs Commissioner Shulman on the targeting by the IRS of tea party applications for 501(c)(4) status.

June 18, 2012:11 Senators call on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for additional answers on the agency’s decision to request confidential donor information from organizations applying for tax exempt status. The Senators said such action circumvented current statutory privacy protections and questioned the targeting of groups specifically seeking the approval or renewal of a tax-exempt designation under section 501(c)(4).

August 9, 2012: 10 GOP Senators  write to IRS Commissioner Shulman, again, asking the agency to clarify its intentions for 501(c)(4)organizations. The Senators questioned the IRS’s response to a public rulemaking petition from outside groups pressuring the agency to take action on 501(c)(4)s and said it was essential that politics not play any role in its decision-making process.

September 11, 2012: Steven Miller Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement sends response to June 18th GOP letter.  The letter does not acknowledge that the IRS had inappropriately targeted tea party groups or asked improper questions about their contributors.

November 9, 2012: IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman steps down at the end of his 5-year term and Steven Miller is named Acting Commissioner.

Source: Unless otherwise noted, the timeline dates can be attributed to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) briefings given to key Committees of jurisdiction this week.


And here’s the timeline compiled by CBS News:

The IRS targeting controversy: A timeline

Jan. 21, 2010: The Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot limit corporation or union spending for or against political candidates in this Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which President Obama denounced that day. This 5-4 decision lay the foundation for an uptick in 501(c)4 status applications from 1,591 to 3,398 between 2010 and 2012, according to the IRS.

March 1-17, 2010: IRS agents identify the first 10 “Tea Party cases” applications though not all had “tea party” in their name, according to a draft of The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) appendix. IRS’ Determinations Unit had asked for a search of “tea party or similar organizations’ applications.”

October 26, 2010: Determinations Unit personnel emailed concerns about the additional review process for tea party applications to the Technical Unit. This individual follows up in November when response to concern about consistency yields no change.

June 29, 2011: IRS director of exempt organizations Lois Lerner learns at a meeting that the agency flagged group titles with “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12 Project” for supplementary review. She told those involved to alter this practice “immediately,” according to a draft of the report from the TIGTA, who audits the IRS.

Aug. 4, 2011: IRS’ Rulings and Agreements staff meets with Chief Counsel “so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue,” according to the TIGTA report.

Jan. 25, 2012: IRS changes standard for identifying organizations that require additional scrutiny, now flagging for “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement,” according to the inspector general’s report.

March 22, 2012: IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman testified the agency did not increase difficulty for politically active groups to get tax exempt status at the House Ways and Means Committee. The Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee chairman, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., called the hearing after he heard complaints from tea party groups about harassment from the IRS.

May 3, 2012: Then-deputy commissioner Steven Miller was first told about the extra scrutiny for tea party groups; he made no mention of this during a House hearing on July 25.

June 15, 2012: Boustany receives a letter from Miller who writes the agency “took steps to coordinate the handling of the case to ensure consistency.”

July 25, 2012: Miller testified to the House Ways and Means Committee without mentioning the additional scrutiny. When Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, asked Miller about harassment complaints from politically active tax-exempt associations, Miller said the IRS “group[ed] those organizations” for “consistency” and “quality.” Neither man mentioned the tea party.

November 11, 2012: Shulman steps down as IRS commissioner as his term ends (he was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008). Miller steps in as acting commissioner.

April 22, 2013: White House counsel’s office learns about conservative groups’ additional scrutiny from the IRS, White House press secretary Jay Carney said on May 13, 2013.

May 10, 2013: Lerner admits to and apologizes for additional review of conservative groups’ 501(c)4 status applications, though she said high level employees didn’t know about the issue — the inspector general’s report refuted this information. While the IRS asked some to provide a donor list, which is against most IRS policy, others never received tax exempt status. Overall, IRS agents flagged 296 of the 501(c)4 applications, 160 of which were open for more than 1,138 days.

May 10, 2013: White House press secretary Jay Carney said this IRS scrutiny was “of concern” and “inappropriate” when answering reporter questions last Friday. President Obama first publically spoke about the scandal Monday.

May 12, 2013: Several Republican members of Congress condemned the IRS targeting on Sunday news shows. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, demanded Mr. Obama speak out against the IRS to demonstrate “that this is totally unacceptable in America” when she appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

May 13, 2013: Mr. Obama called IRS targeting “outrageous,” in a joint press conference with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron. He said the IRS will be held accountable if reports are true — a sentiment Carney reiterated in a May 14 press conference.

May 13, 2013: Miller writes a statement in USA TODAY where he said “mistakes were made” in the agency’s review process, adding the “shortcut taken in our processes” demonstrated “a lack of sensitivity.” Miller said the IRS was not motivated by politics in setting their criteria for how to flag for additional scrutiny. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calls IRS action a “blatant and thuggish abuse of power” the next day.

May 14, 2013: Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an Justice Department and FBI investigation into the IRS that’ll analyze if the agency broke laws in targeting conservative groups for additional review, he said at a press conference.

May 14, 2013: House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., sent Miller a list of 13 questions for him to answer by May 21, including who knew about the targeting and when, as well as who was notified about the additional reviews outside of IRS employees. “Despite repeated for cooperation, the agency failed to be completely truthful in its responses to the Committee during its nearly two-year long investigation of this matter, and in testimony before the Committee,” the two wrote.

May 14, 2013: A Treasury inspector general report calls IRS standards “inappropriate criteria” for flagging 501(c)4 groups as the agency had for more than three years. The report blamed relaxed leadership for the targeting controversy and includes recommendations for the IRS implement more consistent policies.

May 17, 2013: House Ways and Means Committee will host a hearing where Miller and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George are the sole witnesses to testify about the IRS criteria that flagged conservative groups applying for tax exempt status as “social welfare” groups.