Paul Jacob

You don’t need an explanation. These aren’t the partisan political abuses you’re looking for. Move along.

It was all a big mistake. An unfortunate, accidental error. And “what difference does it make?” anyway, since according to the New York Times headline, the “I.R.S. Apologizes to Tea Party Groups Over Audits of Applications for Tax Exemption.”

Yes, indeed, the IRS says it is sorry.

But not actually to the Tea Party and Patriot organizations, whose equal rights under the law the agency so flagrantly violated. Instead, last week, Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations for the Internal Revenue Service, admitted before an audience of lawyers at a conference in Washington, D.C. — after years of official agency denials — that the IRS had indeed singled out “names like Tea Party or Patriots” and subjected those groups’ applications for non-profit status to extra scrutiny.

Conservative groups seeking tax-exempt recognition were sent long, intrusive questionnaires, followed by demands to produce thousands of pages of documents, including lists of members and donors.

“It really was a nightmare,” complained Portage County Ohio Tea Partier Tom Zawistowski. “They came back with requests for: 'Give us a list of all your members. Tell us every politician that ever spoke to your group and what they spoke about. Give us a list of all the speakers you’ve ever had speak to your group. Give us a copy of every page of your webpage, in paper; print out every page of your Facebook page.’”

“That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate,” Lerner acknowledged, adding, “That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review.”

Of course, while saying “that’s not how” the IRS works, she was disclosing that is, indeed, how the IRS has been working. But she claims the IRS has quickly changed and is now ship-shape.

“So I guess my bottom line here,” concluded Lerner, “is that we at the IRS should apologize for that, it was not intentional, and as soon as we found out what was going on, we took steps to make it better and I don’t expect that to reoccur.”

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.