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The Internal Revenue Service is not making it harder for tea party groups to attain tax-exempt status because of their political views, the agency's chief told Congress on Thursday.
Douglas H. Shulman, the IRS commissioner, was pressed on his agency's actions at a House hearing by a Republican congressman who said later that he was not satisfied and expected to hold future hearings on the subject.
Lawmakers from both parties have pressed the IRS to step up its scrutiny of tax-exempt groups in this year's elections, citing their ability to pump huge sums of money into political campaigns without having to disclose their donors.
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., told reporters that he has received numerous complaints from tea party organizations about their treatment by the IRS. He did not cite any specific evidence that the IRS is engaging in extraordinary political activity.
"We have an obligation to provide vigorous oversight over IRS actions and activities to ensure that nobody's constitutional rights are being infringed upon," said Boustany, who chairs the House Ways and Means' oversight subcommittee.
Several of the conservative groups have accused the agency of frustrating their attempts to become tax exempt by sending them lengthy, intrusive questionnaires. The forms, which the groups have made available, seek information about group members' political activities, including details of their postings on social networking websites and about family members.
Shulman testified to Boustany's panel Thursday that the IRS routinely tries to determine whether groups seeking tax-exempt status qualify for it.
"As you know, we pride ourselves on being a non-political, non-partisan organization," Shulman said.
Many tea party groups are applying under section 501 (c) (4) of the federal tax code, which grants tax-exempt status as long as organizations are not primarily involved in activity that could influence an election. That determination is up to the IRS.
"There's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people" who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman said.