POLITICS

IRS refuses to turn over documents on targeting to Senate

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Stop, pay your taxes!
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The Internal Revenue Service has failed to turn over documents requested by the powerful Senate tax-writing panel, which is investigating the tax agency's practice of targeting conservative organizations.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel's top Republican, gave the IRS a May 31 deadline to answer dozens of questions related to the special scrutiny the agency was giving to right-leaning groups seeking tax-exempt status.

But the troubled IRS let the deadline go by.

"We want a response," Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a top Democrat on the panel told The Washington Examiner. "I thought the request was a reasonable request."

The agency has been under intense congressional scrutiny because of its targeting of conservatives, but its troubles continue to grow.

An audit released Tuesday found the IRS spent $49 million on employee conferences between 2010 and 2012. One conference alone in Anaheim, Calif., in 2010 cost more than $4 million, including $17,000 paid to an artist who painted portraits of Michael Jordan and others as he shared "how seemingly random combinations of ideas can drive radical innovations" at the IRS.

Baucus, whom an aide described as "significantly disappointed" about the missed deadline, has little sympathy for the IRS.

"It's disgraceful, frankly," Baucus told The Examiner. "It's not a good way to boost the American confidence in the government, that's for sure."

While the IRS was being skewered in the Senate for excessive conference spending, a House committee was hearing Tuesday from some of the conservative groups whose applications for tax exemption were held up by the IRS just before the 2012 presidential election in which the groups intended to participate. Scathing testimony from the groups included a page-by-page recitation of the onerous and invasive questions that the IRS demanded from Tea Party groups and others.

Another hearing slated for Thursday will examine the damning report on conference spending, which included $32,000 the IRS paid so 24 of its employees could make "planning trips" to the conference site ahead of the convention.

The conference featured 15 speakers at a cost of $135,350, including one man hired to paint the portraits of Jordan, Bono and Albert Einstein as IRS employees looked on. An additional $50,000 was spent to produce videos, including one in which IRS agents were instructed how to line dance and a training video that replicated the set of "Star Trek."

The IRS did not keep adequate records or receipts for the conferences, and nearly $200,000 in spending is unaccounted for. Conference spending at the IRS was cut by 80 percent since 2010, the Treasury Department said. A total of $11 million was spent on IRS conferences in 2011 and 2012.

The embattled agency, meanwhile, is "paralyzed" by the recent gutting of its leadership, including the forced resignation of its acting director and the suspension of the head of the department that was targeting the groups, according to one IRS expert.

"No question that it has been damaged," Cardin said.

Daniel Werfel, the new acting commissioner appointed by President Obama, pledged to root out the wasteful spending and end the targeting of conservative groups. He also promised the Senate committee that he would produce the documents it seeks, a committee aide said.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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