The IRS spent $50 million on conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012, according to a report set for publication on Tuesday.
The money is part of the latest embarrassment for the Internal Revenue Service, which is already under attack for its targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status in the 2012 election. The agency’s Cincinnati office was responsible for isolating groups with certain key phrases in their description, and subjecting them to additional paperwork in the efforts to become tax-exempt.
A conference in August 2010 cost the agency $4 million, after failing to negotiate lower room rates; a practice common to the government when it frequents hotels for such events.
Moreover, the agency brought in $135,000 worth of speakers, including a “leadership through art” speaker for $17,000, and distributed baseball tickets and Presidential suites to employees which cost up to $3,500 per night.
The IRS has been backpedaling further since this scandal became news, with agency spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge defending the embattled agency, pointing to the fact that spending fell by over $30 million from 2010 to 2012.
Even with Congress investigating the IRS’s spending habits, the earlier scandal is still deepening, with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) heading the efforts. The California Republican has bolstered his rhetoric this week, claiming that the low-level employees were “being directly ordered by Washington,” and that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is a “paid liar.” According to Issa, “the administration is still trying to say there’s a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, when in fact the indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington.”
Excerpts from interviews led by Issa show that several IRS employees in Cincinnati were skeptical about Lois Lerner and the White House’s claims that the discriminatory practice began without direction from the IRS headquarters in Washington. One claimed that they were instructed by Washington to collect additional reports on conservative groups and that by early 2010, seven cases were sent to Washington.
In May, knowledge of the behavior became public when a report by the Treasury inspector general found that the Cincinnati office was searching for tax-exempt applications by tea party and conservative groups in targeting groups that could have been violating their obligation to promote welfare. Groups applying for 501c(4) status are not allowed to engage primarily in election related activities.
While the report claimed “ineffective management” as a reason for the practice, nothing in it has pointed to Washington as directing Cincinnati employees to target specific groups.
Acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, has since offered an apology for the excess conference spending, saying that, “This conference is an unfortunate vestige from a prior era. While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred.”
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