On May 10, it was discovered that the IRS had improperly targeted seventy-five conservative tax-exempt groups that had the words “patriot” or “tea party” on their forms. In a statement, the IRS said, “mistakes were made initially, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale.” It also didn’t help when Lois Lerner, the IRS division head for tax-emept groups, said that she wasn’t “good at math.” In the wake of this public relations disaster, the Washington Post published a scathing editorial last Friday calling for an investigation, and called Obama’s failure to publicly apologize for this catastrophe “disturbing.”
A BEDROCK principle of U.S. democracy is that the coercive powers of government are never used for partisan purpose. The law is blind to political viewpoint, and so are its enforcers, most especially the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. Any violation of this principle threatens the trust and the voluntary cooperation of citizens upon which this democracy depends.
So it was appalling to learn Friday that the IRS had improperly targeted conservative groups for scrutiny. It was almost as disturbing that President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have not personally apologized to the American people and promised a full investigation.
“Mistakes were made,” the agency said in a statement. IRS official Lois Lerner explained that staffers used a “shortcut” to sort through a large number of applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status, highlighting organizations with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names. The IRS insisted emphatically that partisanship had nothing to do with it. However, it seems that groups with “progressive” in their titles did not receive the same scrutiny.
If it was not partisanship, was it incompetence? Stupidity, on a breathtaking scale? At this point, the IRS has lost any standing to determine and report on what exactly happened.
The agency said that it now has rules in place to make sure this sort of thing never happens again. How could such basic safeguards not have existed in the first place? And what are the new rules? In response to our questions, officials did not say.
First, I commend the Washington Post, but at the same time, who are these people – and what did they do to the real editorial board? Some left-wing blowhards, like Ed Schultz, dismissed this story, but new details have shown that the IRS knew about the targeting back in 2011.
[O]n June 29, 2011, Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to the watchdog’s report. At the meeting, she was told that groups with “Tea Party,” ”Patriot” or “9/12 Project” in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, the report says.
On Jan, 25, 2012, the criteria for flagging suspect groups was changed to, “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement…while this was happening, several committees in Congress were writing numerous letters IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to express concern because tea party groups were complaining of IRS harassment.
In Shulman’s responses, he did not acknowledge targeting of tea party groups. At a congressional hearing March 22, 2012, Shulman was adamant in his denials.
“There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people” who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman said at the House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.
The portion of the draft report reviewed by the AP does not say whether Shulman or anyone else in the Obama administration outside the IRS was informed of the targeting. It is standard procedure for agency heads to consult with staff before responding to congressional inquiries, but it is unclear how much information Shulman sought.
The IRS has not said when Shulman found out that Tea Party groups were targeted.
As John Hinderaker at Powerline wrote on May 11, that this “harassment” began much earlier than what the IRS admitted to this past week – and:
it now appears that this is one more scandal that the Obama administration managed to keep quiet until after November’s election. One wonders how many more skeletons will come tumbling out of the closet, now that Obama is safely re-elected.
So, this is another issue that could frustrate Obama’s second term agenda, with the other being Benghazi. As William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection reminded us last Friday, the IRS will be the enforcement arm of Obamacare when it’s fully implemented in 2014. With this latest development, I think we can safely assume that Barack Obama won’t be different than other second term presidents in avoiding scandals and lingering economic ills. The shameless serial politicization of government agencies – and the mess left by Obamacare – will be Obama’s legacy. Here’s to transparency and openness in government.