NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The only antagonist Conservative Political Action Conference headliners are battering more than President Barack Obama and his signature health care law is the Internal Revenue Service.
High-profile politicians from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to Mike Huckabee, the former GOP governor of Arkansas, suggested the agency should be outright abolished.
And numerous top conservatives declared that the IRS’s new proposed regulations of politically active nonprofits should be quashed — and that agency officials who inappropriately scrutinized tea party nonprofits should be severely punished.
“The IRS is a criminal enterprise” and a “cancer” that has been “intimidating Americans who are conservative,” Huckabee said.
The agency “needs to be defanged,” argued Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, who added that “there needs to be people who go to jail.”
And former GOP U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell warned that “everyone in this room could be a target, unless we stop this now.”
The takeaway messages to activists: Remain vigilant and push back.
Two separate panels during the three-day confab, which ends Saturday, focused on the IRS’s mishandling of organizations’ tax-exempt applications.
There, conservative leaders called for action to rein in the agency: Hire private investigators. Interview former IRS officials. Provide rewards for whistleblowers.
“We are going to have to take matters into our own hands,” said attorney Cleta Mitchell, a panelist at both events who has represented conservative nonprofits.
Mitchell added that she believes the IRS division overseeing nonprofits is already sharing confidential donor information from tax returns with internal auditors.
She said she’s talked with a number of people who said they were never audited by the IRS until they donated to a conservative group in recent years.
“There has been a consistent and concerted effort to target conservative donors,” said Mitchell, blaming additional scrutiny on Democrats being “absolutely traumatized” after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010 that in part allowed nonprofits to overtly advocate for or against candidates.
An IRS spokesman declined to comment to the Center for Public Integrity beyond saying that the agency spells out its criteria for conducting audits on its website.
Last month, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress that anyone currently dealing with the IRS “should “be comfortable” that they are “going to get treated fairly in the same way anybody else is no matter what their political affiliation, whatever their organization is, whoever they voted for.”
A 2013 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said the IRS used "inappropriate criteria" when reviewing organizations seeking tax-exemption.
Numerous tea party-aligned nonprofits complained about long delays and intrusive questions about their internal workings during the application process.
Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS’s tax-exempt division, resigned in the wake of the scandal, and she has twice appeared before Congress, including once earlier this week, where she has invoked the Fifth Amendment rather than testifying.
She has, however, given a full interview to Department of Justice investigators, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Last month, Obama told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that the IRS’s actions included “some bone-headed decisions” but did not contain “even a smidgen of corruption.”
Such denials, however, have not alleviated conservatives’ concerns.
All individuals involved in the IRS scandal “need to be fired,” said panelist Hans von Spakovsky, an attorney who previously served in the Department of Justice and on the Federal Election Commission.
Without repercussions, von Spakovsky warned, “it’ll happen again.”