WASHINGTON – The House passed three bills Tuesday designed to highlight complaints that the IRS mistreated conservative political groups when they applied for tax-exempt status.
One bill makes it illegal for IRS workers to use personal email accounts to conduct official business. Another bill guarantees groups that are denied tax-exempt status the right to appeal the decision to a separate IRS office.
The third bill addresses complaints from groups that have had their confidential taxpayer information improperly disclosed by IRS employees. The bill allows the IRS to tell victims about the status of investigations into the disclosures. Current law forbids the IRS from releasing such information.
The House passed all three bills on voice votes that did not require lawmakers to cast recorded votes, with little public debate. The bills now go to the Senate, which is unlikely to act before Congress goes home to campaign for congressional elections in November. Congress is expected to leave town as early as this week.
Congress has been investigating the IRS for more than a year, ever since IRS officials acknowledged that agents had improperly singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Democrats note that some liberal groups were also mistreated, but Republican investigators say conservative groups were abused in greater numbers.
The controversy got new life this year when the IRS disclosed that it had lost an untold number of emails to and from Lois Lerner, who once headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. Lerner, who since has retired from the IRS, has emerged as a central figure in congressional investigations.
Republican investigators from the House Ways and Means Committee released a report in April that accused Lerner of using her personal email account to conduct official business, which would violate IRS policy.
"Today, the House passed three bills to impose reform on the IRS," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement. "Altogether, these bills will aid investigations into IRS wrongdoings and protect innocent Americans from IRS targeting by allowing appeals of tax-exempt decisions, releasing information regarding IRS investigations and ensuring work-related emails from IRS officials are no longer lost or forgotten, an unbelievable excuse the agency continues to cite."