According to documents obtained by government watchdog Judicial Watch, embattled and now retired IRS Director of Tax Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner sent confidential tax information of Tea Party and conservative groups to the Federal Elections Commission, a felony offense under federal law.
Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained email exchanges between former Internal Revenue Services (IRS) Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner and enforcement attorneys at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) indicating that the IRS provided detailed, confidential information concerning the tax exempt application status and returns of conservative groups to the FEC in violation of federal law. Included with the email exchanges were IRS questionnaires to a conservative group that contained questions of a hostile nature.
The bulk of the records obtained by Judicial Watch consist of extensive materials from the IRS’ files sent from Lerner to the FEC containing detailed, confidential information about the organizations. These include annual tax returns (Forms 990) and request for exempt recognition forms (Form 1024), Articles of Organization and other corporate documents, and correspondence between the nonprofit organizations and the IRS. Under Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, it is a felony for an IRS official to disclose either “return information” or “taxpayer return information,” even to another government agency.
Judicial Watch obtained this information through a Freedom of Information Act request which was submitted in August. The email exchanges can be seen here.
“These extensive emails and other materials provide a disturbing window into the activities of two out-of-control federal agencies: the IRS and FEC,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “And there is the very real question as to whether these documents evidence a crime.”
Here is the U.S. federal code prohibiting disclosure of confidential information:
26 USC § 6103 - Confidentiality and disclosure of returns and return information
(a) General rule
Returns and return information shall be confidential, and except as authorized by this title—
(1) no officer or employee of the United States,
(2) no officer or employee of any State, any local law enforcement agency receiving information under subsection (i)(7)(A), any local child support enforcement agency, or any local agency administering a program listed in subsection (l)(7)(D) who has or had access to returns or return information under this section or section 6104 (c), and
(3) no other person (or officer or employee thereof) who has or had access to returns or return information under subsection (e)(1)(D)(iii),subsection (k)(10), paragraph (6), (10), (12), (16), (19), (20), or (21) of subsection (l), paragraph (2) or (4)(B) of subsection (m), orsubsection (n),
shall disclose any return or return information obtained by him in any manner in connection with his service as such an officer or an employee or otherwise or under the provisions of this section. For purposes of this subsection, the term “officer or employee” includes a former officer or employee.
Lerner's history of political targeting through powerful government agencies didn't start at the IRS, but during her time working inside the FEC where she served as the head of enforcement.
Lerner was appointed head of the FEC's enforcement division in 1986 and stayed in that position until 2001. In the late 1990s, the FEC launched an onerous investigation of the Christian Coalition, ultimately costing the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in lost work. The investigation was notable because the FEC alleged that the Christian Coalition was coordinating issue advocacy expenditures with a number of candidates for office. Aside from lacking proof this was happening, it was an open question whether the FEC had the authority to bring these charges.
After admitting in the spring that the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative groups, Lerner plead the fifth in front of the House Oversight Committee and was put on administrative paid leave for the summer. In September, it was announced Lerner would be retiring with her full pension and benefits intact.