There is a widening circle of prominent Republican donors and activists stepping forward this week to declare that they were audited by the IRS, and many now are questioning if they were targeted for their political views.
"It makes you wonder," said Charlie Moncrief, a Texas oil executive who is raised more than $1 million for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid. "You just don't know. But given what's out there now, you have to ask the question."
The wave of mistrust on the part of prominent conservatives comes in response to a report by the IRS Inspector General's office published Tuesday that suggested the IRS singled out conservative advocacy groups -- specifically those with references to the Tea Party in their names -- for special scrutiny after they had applied for nonprofit status. The report has triggered a federal investigation into whether officials inside the taxing agency let political motives guide their actions.
Now Frank VanderSloot, an Idaho businessman who donated more than $1 million to groups supporting Romney, told ABC News he believes he may have been targeted for an audit after his opposition to the Obama administration. So did Hal Scherz, a physician who started the group Docs4PatientCare to lobby against President Obama's health care initiative, and became a vocal critic of the president on cable news programs. Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, said he believes his father was a target of unusual IRS scrutiny as well, according to published reports Wednesday.
Graham told Politico that groups founded by his famous father, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the family's international humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse, were both subjected to aggressive action by the IRS. In a letter to President Obama, which he shared with the news outlet, he wrote: "I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence -- or justifiable."
So far, the suggestions of impropriety at the Internal Revenue Service have been limited to the agency's review of advocacy groups that had applied for nonprofit status. The IRS Inspector General's office has not signaled that political factors could have bled into audits of individuals and the IRS maintained in a letter to the Inspector General that its agents made no decisions "out of partisan or political viewpoint."
The IRS reiterated today that politics "play[s] no factor in audit selection."
"The IRS stresses that audits are based on the information contained on the tax return and the underlying tax law," the agency said. "The audit process is handled by career, non-partisan civil servants, and we have processes in place to safeguard the exam process."
But many of those in an already skeptical group of prominent conservatives are unconvinced.
"I happen to believe there are people inside the IRS who feel emboldened," said Cleta Mitchell, a Washington attorney who represents several of the conservative groups that were audited. "I've heard of several instances of donors to conservative causes who were audited. We need to find out if this is just random or if it's more than that."
Mitchell said she is hearing from a range of high-profile Republicans who want to know if their politics motivated the government's decision to audit them.
"I suspect that they looked at individuals as well," Scherz told ABC News. "It is odd that nothing changed on my tax return and I was never audited until I publicly criticized Obamacare."