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Government, Politics & Issues

Blunt seeks Missouri groups directly affected by IRS scrutiny

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Responding to the revelations about the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said his office was looking for Missouri examples — but so far had not found any.

“I’m going to continue to see if any Missouri groups have had a problem. So far, the groups I’ve talked to either had their IRS status before this began or just simply didn’t try to get it,” Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters on Wednesday

Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of whether any IRS employees broke the law when they targeted groups with the words “tea party” and “patriot” in their names for special reviews of whether they should be tax-exempt. An inspector general’s report this week criticized an IRS unit for using “inappropriate criteria” in screening political advocacy groups.

“So far, no defenders of the IRS and few defenders of the administration’s slow response, even over the last couple of days, on what happened at the IRS regarding conservative groups and constitutional-focus groups,” Blunt said.

To qualify for nonprofit, tax exempt status under the tax code’s Section 501(c)(4), groups are supposed to be operated in a way that promotes “the common good and general welfare of the community.” The IRS has long allowed such groups to engage in some partisan activity so long as it constitutes less than half of their operations.

Citing the inspector general’s critical report, Blunt called on the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, “to step down or be removed if, in fact, the reports are true. And he knows if they are true or not.”

Blunt contended that, in at least three instances, Miller had failed to respond adequately to letters from lawmakers seeking information on such practices. He said Miller also had not addressed such issues at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing.

Late Wednesday, President Barack Obama said he had accepted Miller's resignation, and pledged to work with Congress to reform IRS rules so that similar problems don't happen again.

In addition to Blunt, U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have both condemned the IRS actions. “People should be fired for this serious breach of public trust,” McCaskill said Monday. She didn’t specify who should be dismissed, but she said it should be “not just some line employee” at the IRS. “We don't do this in America.”

Durbin told reporters, “It is absolutely unacceptable to single out any political group — right, left or center — and say we're going to target them.” 

Obama said he had directed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew “to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the inspector general’s recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again.“

So far, at least, there have been no reports from Missouri-based tea party groups of direct interference. Tea party groups did not return calls to the Beacon’s political correspondent, Jo Mannies. On Wednesday, Blunt said, “We’ve asked for any input and so far have not found a Missouri case.” 

Late Wednesday, Blunt’s reacted to the news of Miller’s resignation: “I’ve repeatedly called for Steven Miller’s departure and I’m glad he finally stepped down. However, this is only a start. I’ll keep demanding that President Obama work with Congress to fully investigate the IRS scandal, restore transparency and accountability in the government, and prevent these types of shameful activities from happening again.”

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