Gore Staffers Cited in IRS Probe
WASHINGTON (AP) _ An aide to Vice President Al Gore contacted the Internal Revenue Service to obtain confidential tax information after a lower level staff member was rebuffed by the tax agency the same day, according to documents described today.
IRS documents provided to the Joint Committee on Taxation said the first attempt was made by Kiki Gibson, identified as a counsel to the vice president, and the second by Joe Eyer, who apparently was Gibson’s boss, according to Lindy Paull, staff director of the panel.
The committee staff, in a bipartisan study, found no evidence that conservative groups were audited by the IRS for their anti-Clinton views but determined that the vice president’s office and the Treasury Department tried in separate instances to obtain confidential information. The IRS is prohibited by law from releasing specific taxpayer data in almost all instances.
The Gore staffers were trying to get information for the vice president that he could use in an upcoming meeting involving a union matter. Both calls were made the same day in January 1997 and in each case, the callers were told by the IRS that it could not provide the information, Paull said, referring to the documents.
``What is the point in making the call?″ Paull said, when asked whether Gore’s office was trying to pressure the IRS to release the data, especially with the second call.
The three-year study was begun after several nonprofit conservative organizations complained they were politically targeted for audits during the Clinton presidency. The report, obtained Wednesday, concluded that ``high-profile tax-exempt organizations and individuals″ received increased IRS scrutiny. But ``no credible evidence″ was discovered that any groups ``were selected for examination based on their political views.″
Gore aides tried to obtain information about ``the status of certain forms filed by members of a tax-exempt organization,″ the study said. The vice president’s staff members first tried to get the information, which involved a union, from the Treasury Department. The department directed them to the IRS in violation of the department’s rules, according to the report.
``The White House officials then, in violation of written White House policies, contacted directly several IRS employees ... and attempted to secure taxpayer return information,″ the report alleged.
The White House policy states that ``no member of the White House staff should have any communication of any type with the IRS without prior approval of the (White House) counsel.″
White House officials contended the officials who made the contacts were authorized by the counsel’s office as required by the rules and were not seeking tax return information.
``It appears it is a straightforward status check that was handled appropriately by our office,″ Gore spokeswoman Melissa Bonney Ratcliff said.
The report did not identify the officials, and also declined to identify the tax-exempt group because of taxpayer confidentiality laws.
Officials familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said evidence gathered by the committee suggested Gore’s staff made the inquiry because the vice president was expecting to talk to union officials.
The officials inquired about the status of an IRS decision on a tax filing over whether certain workers should be classified as independent contractors or employees for tax purposes, the sources said.
The subject of the 1995 Treasury inquiry could not be determined. The report said a department official inquired about the status of an examination of a tax-exempt organization to several IRS officials.
``The IRS employees in question all recognized the impropriety of the contacts, and made referrals″ to investigators in the agency, the report said.
``These types of contacts lend credence to the allegations that the administration does intervene in IRS matters pertaining to specific taxpayers,″ the report stated.
Treasury Department spokeswoman Michelle Smith declined to comment Wednesday, saying she had not seen the report.
Late last year, The Associated Press disclosed that several members of Congress, including Republicans, had requested audits of the tax-exempt status of political foes _ based on complaints from constituents or news stories. Among them was House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, who had requested the Joint Taxation Committee review.
From Jan. 1, 1994, through April 22, 1997, the IRS’ national office received nearly 500 inquiries from lawmakers relating to tax-exempt organizations, the report said.
While there was no evidence that the inquiries altered the handling of any audits, the report confirmed that the IRS moved much faster in handling such requests.
``Because the funding of IRS operations is dependent on the Congress, the IRS responds more promptly to, and takes more seriously, requests and inquiries made by members of Congress than requests made by taxpayers,″ the report found.
The study said the congressional requests had ``the potential for improper influence.″
The joint tax committee is made up of select senators and representatives on the congressional tax-writing panels and the staff provides the official estimates of all tax bills for the House and Senate. It also researches various tax-related topics.