ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle called for an investigation of the Internal Revenue Service on Monday after the agency admitted to targeting conservative groups for audit.
The IRS has apologized for what it acknowledged was "inappropriate" targeting of conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status during the 2012 presidential election. The employees worked out of the IRS central office for tax-exempt applications in Cincinnati.
The local We the People-Ohio Valley organization was not among the conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, according to Robert Connors of St. Clairsville, spokesman for the group.
"We did not get targeted because we didn't go for tax-exempt status," he said. "We suspected this (IRS tax audits) would happen, and we stayed away from it. I'm glad we did. ... This is just an example of government bullying, typically known as 'tyranny.' When we are afraid of government, we are not free anymore."
Connors said he had been in contact with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, who informed him he would push for a full investigation of the IRS' actions.
"Americans deserve an accountable, responsible federal government - one which exhibits honesty, integrity and trust," Johnson said. "Evidence that the IRS specifically targeted conservative groups is shocking, and quite simply un-American. Such politically motivated actions by a government agency, or its employees, to target any individual or organization is absolutely unacceptable.
"No American should ever be targeted or harassed for their political beliefs, especially by their own government. I will be demanding a full investigation in order to find out exactly what happened and to hold those accountable who were behind these egregious acts."
Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia also criticized the IRS Monday, citing the need for more investigation at the agency.
"The IRS should never pick out one political viewpoint for extra scrutiny," Brown said. "As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I'll be working to ensure that there is a full investigation into this matter and appropriate disciplinary actions are taken. I look forward to learning all the facts. The IRS should take a hard look at political campaign organizations masquerading as charitable organizations, but it should do so across the board."
Manchin termed the actions of the IRS "unacceptable and "un-American."
"Government agencies using their bureaucratic muscle to target Americans for their political beliefs cannot be tolerated," he said. "The president must immediately condemn this attack on our values, find those individuals in his administration who are responsible and fire them.
"While we await answers from the inspector general, there must be a congressional investigation to determine how this happened and to prevent this from ever happening again," Manchin added.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., had no comment on the issue Monday, according to his office.
"Although I am happy that it has finally admitted to placing politics over policy, the IRS owes conservative groups far more than a mere apology for their unfair treatment," added Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "It is crystal clear that additional safeguards are in order to prevent this obtrusive behavior in the future. This overt and excessive harassment of groups targeted for their political beliefs is despicable, and many questions remain. How were 'low-level workers in Cincinnati' able to initiate practices that completely undermine the IRS's promise to treat all groups with an even hand? Even more, what were they hoping to do with the copious personal information they obtained from these groups?
"Having led IRS reform in the '90s with then-Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., I am sorely disappointed to see this agency head down this path yet again. I expect quick answers from the IRS as to how this happened in the first place and what steps are being taken to ensure that it never happens again," Portman continued.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-Charleston, continued the call for more investigation of the IRS.
"The IRS' witch hunt of conservative groups is not only appalling, but it is un-American," said Capito. "The agency's admission that they targeted groups for political reasons should put every American on edge. Our 1st Amendment rights are a foundational principle of American democracy, and this gross violation deserves to be fully investigated.
"Regardless of political affiliation, no American should be targeted for excising their constitutional rights," she added. "I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get to the bottom of the IRS' wrongdoings, and I call on President Obama to immediately denounce their shameful actions."
U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-Wheeling, was traveling in the district and could not be reached for comment Monday, said spokesman Jim Forbes.