by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It is likely the largest unauthorized disclosure of tax-return information in history: the transfer of some 1.25 million pages of confidential tax returns to the Department of Justice in October of 2010. And some say it may have been illegal.
The documents, which consisted chiefly of non-profit tax returns, were transferred to the DOJ’s criminal division from the IRS at the request of Lois Lerner, who wanted to get the information to the DOJ in advance of a meeting where she and several of the attorneys in the public integrity section of the department’s criminal division discussed their concerns about the increasing political activity of non-profit groups.
The Justice Department later told Congress that the documents contained confidential taxpayer information protected by federal law. The nature of that information hasn’t been made public, but the so-called “Schedule B” form, for example, which non-profit groups are required to attach to their tax returns, known as 990s, asks for the names and addresses of donors to the organization.
But we already knew that. The transfer of information at Lerner’s request came to light during a congressional investigation in 2014. What we know now, thanks to additional documents unearthed in years-long litigation by the good-government group Cause of Action, is that Lerner almost certainly broke the law when she transferred the documents. That casts a new light on the Justice Department’s decision last year not to prosecute Lerner, who had become the face of the IRS’s ham-handed effort to crack down on right-leaning groups, but against whom a criminal case might have been difficult to build.