By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) - Conservative groups who were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service are getting their say on Capitol Hill just as the details of another IRS controversy are being made public.
The leaders of six conservative groups were scheduled to tell lawmakers Tuesday about their mistreatment at the hands of IRS agents. Several of the groups say their applications for tax-exempt status were delayed while agents asked intrusive questions that the IRS has since acknowledged were inappropriate. One group, the National Organization for Marriage, says the IRS publicly disclosed confidential information about donors.
Leaders of the groups were scheduled to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee. Ways and Means is one of three congressional committees investigating the IRS' treatment of such groups. The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation.
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 report by J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration.
George was scheduled to release another report Tuesday, one that said the IRS spent $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012.
The conference spending included $4 million for an August 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which requested the report.
Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites that normally cost $1,500 to $3,500 a night. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about "leadership through art," the committee said.
"I am absolutely appalled at the apparent waste of taxpayer dollars on frivolous conferences," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "It seems we have a new misstep every day at the IRS."
Cruz: Abolish the IRS
Hours before the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on political targeting at the Internal Revenue Service, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had a simple solution to the agency’s problems — get rid of it altogether.
“I think we ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax where the average American can fill out taxes on postcard,” he explained in a Fox News interview over the weekend. “Put down how much you earn, put down a deduction for charitable contributions, home mortgage and how much you owe. It ought to be a simple one-page postcard, and take the agents, the bureaucracy out of Washington and limit the power of government.”
Cruz proposed a flat tax during the 2012 election, but he said he would keep a standard deduction for lower-income earners, as well as deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations.
Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has frequently called for the abolition of the IRS. He would have gone further than Cruz by also eliminating the income tax.