Democrats say Republicans hammering U.S. IRS for 'political purposes'

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 7, 2014 5:11pm EST

WASHINGTON Feb 7 (Reuters) - Squabbling on Capitol Hill over the U.S. Internal Revenue Service continued on Friday with Democrats accusing Republicans of prolonging multiple investigations into a nine-month-old controversy at the tax agency for political gain.

"We are concerned ... that congressional Republicans are wasting taxpayer dollars and continuously using the (IRS) 'investigations' for political purposes for the November election," two U.S. House of Representatives Democrats said in a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

U.S. representatives Sander Levin and Elijah Cummings in the letter asked Koskinen to estimate how much time and money the IRS has spent responding to investigators. There are six ongoing investigations of the IRS, Koskinen has said.

The inquiries have to do with a controversy that erupted in mid-2013 about IRS scrutiny of applications for tax-exempt status from conservative political groups tied to the Tea Party.

In a related development, House Democrats also raised concerns about IRS Inspector General J. Russell George, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.

House Democrats have filed a complaint with a council of federal government inspectors general against George, who heads the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, an IRS watchdog.

A spokeswoman for TIGTA said in a statement: "Inspector General George received a copy of the letter sent to the Integrity committee and is in the process of reviewing its contents."

LINGERING CONTROVERSY

For months, the IRS has been caught in partisan crossfire over the agency's worst scandal in years. It burst into view in May 2013 when a senior IRS executive issued a public apology for what she called inappropriate scrutiny applied by IRS staff to some organizations applying for tax-exempt status.

The apology triggered furious accusations by congressional Republicans that the IRS was deliberately targeting conservatives for unfair treatment. The Obama administration has said there is no evidence of political corruption at the agency.

At a House hearing earlier this week, Koskinen said the IRS has 150 staffers working to respond to the investigations of the IRS's missteps last year.

A May 2013 TIGTA report about the IRS's tax-exempt application scrutiny prompted the agency official's apology.

Democrats alleged in their 22-page complaint that the May 2013 report was flawed, and asked for an investigation into George's "independence, ethics, competence and quality control."

The Democrats' complaint was sent to a non-regulatory group of other U.S. inspectors general who can make only recommendations. George is a lifetime political appointment who can only be removed by the president.

"The Inspector General's May 14 (2013) audit was fundamentally flawed," said U.S. Representative Levin on Friday, adding he supported the complaint filed against George.

"The Inspector General's testimony before Congress has been misleading and his handling of the audit report caused concern from the very beginning," said Levin, the top Democrat on the House tax-writing committee that oversees the IRS.