Transcript: Rep. Dave Camp’s opening remarks on the Ways & Means Committee’s hearing on the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status – May 17, 2013

Partial transcript of opening remarks by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) on the House Ways and Means Committee’s hearing on the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status on May 17, 2013:

On May 10th, Lois Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations for the Internal Revenue Service’s division that oversees tax exemption groups, finally acknowledged that the agency had been targeting conservative-leaning political organizations.

Four days later, the Treasury Inspector General for taxpayer administration confirmed that and I quote, “The IRS used inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status.”

The report also confirmed that this abuse of power began as far back as 2010.

This revelation goes against the very principles of free speech and liberty upon which this country was founded.

The blatant disregard with which the agency has treated Congress and the American taxpayer raises serious concerns about leadership at the IRS.

Let’s establish the facts that we do know.

Based on the TIGTA report, we know that for an 18-month period, beginning in Spring 2010, IRS employees in the agency’s determinations unit employed key words such as “Tea Party”, “Patriot”, and “9/12” to target applications for tax-exempt status. These groups were then subjected to further IRS investigation and document requests.

IRS employees later expanded their search to include groups concerned about government spending, debt, taxes, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or try and to “make America a better place to live.”

Let me repeat that. People were targeted for trying to make America a better place to live.

These Americans have their applications delayed for nearly 3 years and at least 98 applicants were asked improper and inappropriate information, such as donor lists and whether family members planned to run for political office.

During the delay and while applications of conservative groups sat untouched for more than a year, other applications with names like “progress” and “progressive” were approved in just a matter of months.

The headline in USA Today from earlier this week really says it all – “IRS gave liberals a pass; Tea Party groups put on hold”.

TIGTA’s audit found that some of those cases should have been set aside because of concerns related to their potential political activity but no such review was done.

Without objection, I enter the USA Today news report into the record.

This week, we learned that senior IRS officials knew about this activity almost two years ago in June 2011, and IRS’s leadership in Washington knew of it in May 2012 – a year ago.

Despite a two-year long investigation by this committee, the IRS never told the American people or their representatives about this simple truth. In fact, we were repeatedly told no such targeting was happening. That isn’t being misled; that’s lying.

But now we know the truth – or at least some of it.

We also know that these revelations are just tip of the iceberg. It would be a mistake to treat this as just one scandal. This may be the one generating headlines but in total I counted at least 5 serious violations of taxpayer rights – the right to be treated fairly, honestly, and impartially by their government.

First, back in August of 2010, a White House official discussed the status of a private company – the tax status of a private company – a clear intimidation tactic.

Second, in June of 2010, the targeting of conservative groups began.

Third, in May of 2011, the IRS started to threaten donors to conservative-leaning non-profits that they were liable for certain taxes.

And fourth, in March of 2012, the Huffington Post published a confidential 2008 donor list of the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative tax-exempt organization.

And fifth, but unlikely the final transgression, ProPublic announced that the IRS had leaked confidential applications for tax-exempt status for conservative groups.

Mr. Miller, with all due respect, systematic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation or two.

And as much as I expect more people need to go, the reality is this is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful, too intrusive, and too abusive of honest hardworking taxpayers.

There isn’t a person I come into contact with at home or anyone in this country, frankly, who does not fear the IRS. They fear getting something wrong on their tax filings, and they fear the IRS’s ability to audit them would wreck havoc in their lives, especially when all they’re trying to do is improve their lives, let alone, God forbid, try to make America a better place to live, which is what the IRS targeted them for.

Under that kind of thinking, every civic group in America is at risk – the Knights of Columbus, the Rotary, the JCs, American Legion, VFW clubs.

I’m sure you’re aware of the saying “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

Well, under this administration, the IRS has abused its power to tax and it has destroyed what little faith it hope the American people had of getting a fair shake in Washington.

This will not stand.

Turning a few branches will not solve the problem when the roots of the tree have gone rotten, and that is exactly what’s happened with our entire tax system. It is rotten at the core and it must be ripped out so we can start fresh. Only then will the American people get a tax system that treats them fairly and as honestly as they deserve.

And while that’s a larger discussion, it is directly tied to the issue before us today – how and why our tax system has gone so far off track. Many questions still remain: Why did the IRS repeatedly target the American people and keep that fact covered up for so long? Who started the targeting? Who knew? When did they know? And how high did it go? Who leaked the private taxpayer information? Why were the names of donors asked for? And what was done with those lists before they were supposedly discarded? And when did the administration know about each of these and what’s its reaction?

Listening to the nightly news, this appears to be just the latest example of a culture of cover-ups and political intimidation in this administration. It seems like the truth is hidden from the American people just long enough to make it through an election.

The American people have a right to the truth, to a government that delivers the facts – good or bad – no matter what.

President Obama promised to be different and to deliver a better government – the most transparent in history. He was right. America deserves better. It is time to end the corruption of the IRS and fix a tax code that allows Washington and the IRS to pick who wins and who loses in America.

I expect nothing less than total cooperation by the IRS and this administration as we investigate what happened and what we must do to fix it.

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