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Washington - Watchdog: IRS Enjoy Luxury Rooms At Conference

Published on: June 4, 2013 03:54 PM
By: AP
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From right to left: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich.; Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas; Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas; Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.; listen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013, as organizations that say they were unfairly targeted by the Internal Revenue Service while seeking tax-exempt status during a hearing of the committee. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)From right to left: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich.; Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas; Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas; Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.; listen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013, as organizations that say they were unfairly targeted by the Internal Revenue Service while seeking tax-exempt status during a hearing of the committee. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Washington - Already under siege, the Internal Revenue Service was cited by a government watchdog for a $4.1 million training conference featuring luxury rooms and free drinks, even as conservative figures told Congress Tuesday they had been abused for years while seeking tax-exempt status.

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A total of 132 IRS officials received room upgrades at the 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., according to the report being released by J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

One official stayed five nights in a room that regularly goes for $3,500 a night, George’s report said, and another stayed four nights in a room that regularly goes for $1,499 a night. The agency paid a flat daily fee of $135 per hotel room, it said, but the upgrades were part of a package deal that added to the overall cost of the conference. Without the upgrades, the IRS could have negotiated a lower room rate, as required by agency procedures.

The inspector general’s report was surfacing as the IRS came under fire again in connection with its targeting of conservative groups during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

In all, the IRS held 225 employee conferences from 2010 through 2012, at a total cost of $49 million, the report said. The Anaheim conference was the most expensive, but others were costly, too.

In 2010, for instance, the agency held a conference in Philadelphia that cost $2.9 million, one in San Diego that cost $1.2 million, and one in Atlanta that also cost $1.2 million.

Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel has called the conferences “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.” Werfel took over the agency about two weeks ago, after President Barack Obama forced the previous acting commissioner to resign.

For more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns, IRS agents in a Cincinnati office singled out tea party and other conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they sought tax-exempt status, according to a previous report by George.

The report issued last month said tea party groups were asked inappropriate questions about their donors, their political affiliations and their positions on political issues. The additional scrutiny delayed applications for an average of nearly two years, making it difficult for many of the groups to raise money.

On Tuesday, leaders of conservative groups complained to Congress that they were abused by the Internal Revenue Service for years as they sought tax-exempt status, including questions one Iowa anti-abortion group said it got about prayer meetings.

The testimony of the tea party and other conservative organizations before the House Ways and Means Committee was the first time groups complaining about the IRS’s treatment have appeared directly before lawmakers since the IRS revealed the problem — and apologized for it — last month. They talked about applications for tax-exempt status that took three years for approval — or in some cases haven’t yet been approved — and queries from the agency about the identity of their donors, video of meetings and whether speakers at such gatherings expressed political views.

“I’m a born-free American woman,” Becky Gerritson, president of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama, tearfully told the committee, adding, “I’m telling my government, you’ve forgotten your place.”

Sue Martinek, president of the Coalition for Life of Iowa, an anti-abortion group, said the IRS asked them about “the content of our prayers.”

“As Christians, we know we needed to pray for better solutions for unplanned pregnancies,” she said.

The president of another group, the National Organization for Marriage, said the IRS publicly disclosed confidential information about donors. George Eastman said he thought the IRS’s release of that information was designed to intimidate contributors to the group — which opposes same-sex marriage — “to chill them from donating again.”

At Tuesday’s Ways and Means hearing, committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said the conservative groups were being singled out for their beliefs.

“They are Americans who did what we ask people to do every day — add their voice to the dialogue that defines our country,” Camp said. “And for pursuing that passion, for simply exercising their First Amendment rights — the freedoms of association, expression and religion — the IRS singled them out.”

The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin, said it was time to correct the IRS’s problems.

“You are owed an apology,” Levin, from Michigan, told the witnesses. “We say to you that each of us is committed to doing our part to ensure that.”

But even as they joined in expressing criticism of the IRS’s behavior and sympathy for how witnesses’ groups were treated, some Democrats tempered that. They noted that the IRS is responsible for seeing if organizations qualify for tax-exempt status — which includes not approving requests by groups that primarily engage in election campaigns.

“None of you were kept from organizing, or were silenced,” said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. “We’re talking about whether or not American taxpayers will subsidize your work. We’re talking about a tax break.”

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., noted that IRS commissioners over the past decade were appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican, and said, “This has nothing do with red versus blue.”

At one point, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said many of the conservative groups have taken positions on highly-charged political issues like President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and said, “Let’s stop this charade of pretending to be just social welfare organizations. Admit they are political and treat them as such.”

That prompted an angry response from Eastman, who said that to say “defending traditional marriage doesn’t qualify for defense of the public good is beyond preposterous.”

Earlier, the leader of a small South Carolina tea party group said her organization first applied for tax-exempt status in 2010 — and is still waiting for the application to be processed.

“Nearly three years in waiting for an answer is totally unacceptable,” said Dianne Belsom, president of the Laurens County Tea Party. “The IRS needs to be fully investigated and held accountable for its incompetence harassment and targeting of conservative groups.”

Belsom said her group in rural South Carolina has about 60 members and “seeks to educate ourselves and fellow citizens on various issues pertinent to living in a free country.” The group also holds candidate forums in election years, she said.

“I’d like to note that our group is a small-time operation with very little money and this represents a complete waste of time by the IRS in terms of any money they would collect if we were not tax-exempt,” Belsom said.


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1

 Jun 04, 2013 at 04:15 PM Benabenja Says:

That's the kind of excess you get, guys, when favor "big governments". You voted for it, you got it! Stop thinking Democrats are not socialists.
Commissioner Danny Werfel has called the conferences “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.” He is wrong, it depends on who you elect, not the the time in history.

2

 Jun 04, 2013 at 04:22 PM A SHANDA! Says:

There was a similar scandal with the General Services Administration recently, whereby several dozen employees of the GSA went to Hawaii and stayed at luxurious hotels, at taxpayer expense, merely to attend a groundbreaking ceremony. The head of the unit of the GSA who was responsible, was forced out, along with several others. One would have thought that each Federal Department, would have exercised sufficient oversight to have prevented this abuse of the taxpayer's trust, from reoccurring. I know that it is difficult to get rid of Federal employees for wrongdoing, but it is not impossible; those responsible at the IRS for not only the excessive monies spent on lavish conferences, but also those responsible for targeting groups because of their political beliefs should be fired! In some cases, some individuals should be indicted and prosecuted. Pat Buchanan had the chutzpah to criticize Obama for the IRS mess! When Buchanan was an advisor for Nixon, the IRS was also used to target "enemies of Nixon". Where was Buchanan then?

3

 Jun 04, 2013 at 05:03 PM SilverNGold Says:

America is not the same country it was when I was growing up, and I'm only 27. We should learn from these changes to always be on our feet and never thrown for a shock when your comfort zone is shaken. Less than 240 years of US history is no time in terms of world history, and look at how much has changed about America - largely for the good, but never feel absolutely secure, and always be alert because as fast as it can move in one direction, it can move in another. Keep your eyes open for red flags. That's why things like this IRS issue and Obamacare, among others, grab my attention with urgency. When America fundamentally shifts, we will know we only have Hashem.

Defend your freedoms while you can.

4

 Jun 04, 2013 at 05:04 PM SilverNGold Says:

The reposting of my comment was a mistake. Sorry.

5

 Jun 04, 2013 at 05:23 PM Anonymous Says:

thank you obama and the entire democrat party, oh and all the fools that voted for this stuff,
i guess tomorrow I will have to get up and work harder so they can party more

6

 Jun 04, 2013 at 09:20 PM anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Benabenja Says:

That's the kind of excess you get, guys, when favor "big governments". You voted for it, you got it! Stop thinking Democrats are not socialists.
Commissioner Danny Werfel has called the conferences “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.” He is wrong, it depends on who you elect, not the the time in history.

Yes "big government" with Secret Service and their harlots in South America and Prince Bandar , a Saudi , hobnogging with high Republicans while terrorists from Saudi Arabia planned attacks on the U.S. This due to lack of ethics . Mr.Ryan wants to save Medicare by making it a relic and spending more on planes and other non-essential armaments . Of course Rayethon will be spending money on his campaign while he will gets nothing from the Medicare beneficiaries. Hypocrisy

7

 Jun 05, 2013 at 10:12 AM peretz2 Says:

Reply to #2  
A SHANDA! Says:

There was a similar scandal with the General Services Administration recently, whereby several dozen employees of the GSA went to Hawaii and stayed at luxurious hotels, at taxpayer expense, merely to attend a groundbreaking ceremony. The head of the unit of the GSA who was responsible, was forced out, along with several others. One would have thought that each Federal Department, would have exercised sufficient oversight to have prevented this abuse of the taxpayer's trust, from reoccurring. I know that it is difficult to get rid of Federal employees for wrongdoing, but it is not impossible; those responsible at the IRS for not only the excessive monies spent on lavish conferences, but also those responsible for targeting groups because of their political beliefs should be fired! In some cases, some individuals should be indicted and prosecuted. Pat Buchanan had the chutzpah to criticize Obama for the IRS mess! When Buchanan was an advisor for Nixon, the IRS was also used to target "enemies of Nixon". Where was Buchanan then?

You also had the House Republican trip to the Galillee in Summer 2011

8

 Jun 05, 2013 at 10:17 AM anonymous Says:

The Republicans have voted upteen times unsuccessfully to defeat Obamacare at the taxpayer's expense, the enjoy the most lavish health insurance pay by the taxpayer, they have lowest rating among the American public, their accomplishment is defeatism and increase the national debt due to their lack of of legislation. a bunch of parasites supported by the public

9

 Jun 05, 2013 at 12:59 PM peretz2 Says:

Reply to #8  
anonymous Says:

The Republicans have voted upteen times unsuccessfully to defeat Obamacare at the taxpayer's expense, the enjoy the most lavish health insurance pay by the taxpayer, they have lowest rating among the American public, their accomplishment is defeatism and increase the national debt due to their lack of of legislation. a bunch of parasites supported by the public

Supported by Koch Brothers, etc. -- their version of Republicanism and Conservatism is so far from that of 30 years ago that Kemp, Goldwater, Reagan, etc that they are rolling over in their graves.

Republicanism is about creating opportunity not preserving privilege

10

 Jun 05, 2013 at 01:51 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #8  
anonymous Says:

The Republicans have voted upteen times unsuccessfully to defeat Obamacare at the taxpayer's expense, the enjoy the most lavish health insurance pay by the taxpayer, they have lowest rating among the American public, their accomplishment is defeatism and increase the national debt due to their lack of of legislation. a bunch of parasites supported by the public

Legislation was also not voted on by democrats. They brought forth their bills and either the Dems didn't vote or Obama said he'd veto it. Why should republicans vote yes on something they don't believe in? It goes both ways- republicans didn't vote forded bills and dems didn't vote for republican bills. Both are at fault, but at least the republicans tried to compromise. Dems said "no" and Obama said would veto bills that didn't include his pet projects.

11

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