Tax Analysts Blog

TIGTA Report Implies a Lot, Proves Little, About Bias at the IRS

Posted on May 28, 2013

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s report that is at the center of the current firestorm over potential political bias at the IRS asserts that the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to choose applications for tax exempt status that would be subject to further review. These criteria were both names and policy views clearly associated with conservative causes. (See my reproduction of Table 3 of the TIGTA report below.) Despite numerous IRS statements that other criteria were also used, the TIGTA report provides no analysis of these other criteria except to acknowledge that IRS made statements claiming that they exist.

Figure 3. Criteria for Potential Political Cases (June 2011)
"Tea Party," "Patriots" or "9/12 Project" is referenced in case file
Issues include government spending, government debt or taxes
Education of the public by advocacy lobbying to "make America a better place to live"
Statement in the case file criticize [sic] how the country is being run
Source: TIGTA, "Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications to Review, May 14, 2013.

In its report TIGTA examined 296 “potential political cases” that were selected by the IRS between May 2010 and May 2012 for additional review. About one third of these were for 501(c)(3) status (which means contributions to those organizations are deductible) and the rest were for 501(c)(4) status (which means the organization can engage in a lot of political activity but does not have to disclose its donors).

TIGTA examined the names of these 296 organizations and found that 98 of them had either “Tea Party”, “Patriots,” or “9/12 Project” as part of their name. This is the basis of Figure 4 in the report reproduced below.

What does this pie chart tells about political bias at the IRS? Not much, really. Detractors of the IRS will note that many conservative groups may have been “inappropriately targeted” for their policy views and classified in the “other” category shown in the chart. Defenders of the agency can point out that just because a group has Tea Party, etc. in its name does not mean the IRS selected it for that reason.

Ultimately, to address the question of whether the IRS’s review of applications for tax-exempt status has a disparate impact on one side of the political spectrum or the other, we will need to know more about makeup of new advocacy organizations being incorporated during the relevant timeframe. For example, if there was an explosion in the creation of potentially political conservative organizations in the last few year (that was disproportionate to the creation of non-conservative organizations), more conservative groups would be targeted than non-conservative groups even if there was no political bias. Looking at the make-up of groups selected tells us nothing about bias unless we know the make-up of the group from which they were selected.

Read Comments (2)

Von GneisenauJun 1, 2013

Hahaha, I see orders came from above to do some damage control:

1) what did the 202 include in their names? "fiscal responsibility"? "John
Birch"? "spending sanity"? "family values" etc?

What is the basis of separating them from the 96 other cases? We do not
learn. For all we know, their names were quasi-anagrams of the same - 12/9,
party tea, etc

2) The IRS director (rulings and agreements) says no bias b/c the IRS worked on
other matters as well. I would love to have this guy do stop & frisk in NYC -
no bias b/c while we pulled over every black/hispanic we could find, we also
pulled over every guy running around with a knife and gun (oh, yeah, and they
were black and hispanic too but that does not count). See no bias.

3) "Defenders of the agency can point out that just because a group has Tea
Party, etc. in its name does not mean the IRS selected it for that reason."

No, actually, the IRS pretty much said that that was the reason they were

Or do you mean, something like, I pulled you over not because you're black per
se but b/c blacks are statistically more likely to commit violent crimes?

Man, we need guys like you at the airport scanning for turbans...

3) as far as an explosion of conservative orgs - yes, sure there are other
explanations - I would think that that kind of information is available to the
IRS and that if it were true, the IRS would be there touting it - the fact that
they are not suggests that there ain't there there.

edmund dantesJun 3, 2013

Here are examples of left wing groups that the IRS had no problem with:

Partisanship much?

Submit comment

Tax Analysts reserves the right to approve or reject any comments received here. Only comments of a substantive nature will be posted online.

By submitting this form, you accept our privacy policy.


All views expressed on these blogs are those of their individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Tax Analysts. Further, Tax Analysts makes no representation concerning the views expressed and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, fact, information, data, finding, interpretation, or opinion presented. Tax Analysts particularly makes no representation concerning anything found on external links connected to this site.