ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have called for an investigation of the Internal Revenue Service after the agency admitted to targeting conservative groups for audit.
The IRS has apologized for targeting tea party and other conservative groups.
The agency started targeting groups with "Tea Party," ''Patriots" or "9/12 Project" in their applications in March 2010. The criteria later evolved to include groups that promoted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The practice ended in May 2012, according to a timeline in an internal Treasury Department report.
In some cases, the IRS acknowledged, agents inappropriately asked for lists of donors. The agency blamed low-level employees in a Cincinnati office, saying no high-level officials were aware.
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, 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.
The Treasury report comes on the same day that Attorney General Eric Holder announced a Justice Department investigation to determine whether IRS officials broke any laws.
He said he ordered the FBI to investigate Friday - the day the IRS publicly acknowledged that it had singled out conservative groups.
"Those (actions) were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable," Holder said. "But we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations."
King is a reporter with the Herald-Star in Steubenville.