Wednesday, February 05, 2014

IRS Obsession

It's the trumped-up scandal that won't quit.

It's not Benghazi, but even more ridiculous.  Bill O'Reilly asked President Obama about it in the interview (video, below) broadcast on the Fox network before the Super Bowl.   Former Reagan speechwriter, syndicated columnist, and This Week talking head Peggy Noonan wrote about it in her most recent column when she argued

In the past five years many Americans have come to understand that an agency that maintained a pretty impressive record for a very long time has been turned, at least in part, into a political operation. Now the IRS has proposed new and tougher rules for grass-roots groups. Cleta Mitchell, longtime attorney for many who've been targeted, says the IRS is no longer used in line with its mission: "They're supposed to be collecting revenues, not snooping and trampling on the First Amendment rights of the citizens. We are not subjects of a king, we are permitted to engage in First Amendment activities without reporting those activities to the IRS."

Wonkette's Gary Legum wants to tell Noonan and

Cleta Mitchell, attorney for some conservative groups, that part of the IRS’s revenue collection duties includes determining whether applicants claiming to be social-welfare organizations in order to get tax-exempt status are actually political action groups. It is ridiculous that the IRS is charged with doing this, but you can blame the conservative Supreme Court and its terrible campaign finance rulings for unleashing a flood of grifters. You’re not all goddamn special snowflakes exempted from the rules simply because you think you should be. 

But that didn't stop George Will Monday on GOP News from bizarrely equating the IRS flap to two gigantic scandals:  "Bret, we've had three major scandals in the last forty years. Scandals are a dime a dozen in this town – sexual, financial and all the rest. Three big ones involving the distortion and abuse of institutions. Watergate, Iran-Contra and the IRS."

The weapons of mass destruction fraud, including Condoleezza Rice's 'mushroom cloud' invention, didn't manage to make the cut.  But the IRS did, even though late last June Sam Stein found revelations which

greatly complicate the political scandal that has engulfed the IRS over the past few weeks. An inspector general report in mid-May revealed the tax agency had screened conservative groups with words like "tea party" in their name when considering applications for tax-exempt status. Lawmakers from both parties quickly denounced the creation of such "Be On The Lookout," or BOLO, lists. Republicans in particular argued the finding proved the IRS was trying to tip the scales of the election during the heat of the campaign.

Now it appears the agency's BOLOs were applied to organizations across the ideological spectrum. The IRS also screened groups advocating on behalf of Israeli settlements who were applying for non-profit 501(c)(4) status -- a criterion that may on its own prove politically toxic.

A request for comment from the IRS was not immediately returned. The news of the progressive BOLO was first reported by The Associated Press.

John Shafer, manager of the tax-exempt division in the IRS Cincinnati office had told congressional investigators that BOLOs were applied not for purposes of punishing conservative groups, but to ensure that similar organizations were being categorized and screened by the same group of IRS officials. The concern, he said, was that two different tea party groups would get two different decisions on non-profit status. So, the Cincinnati office developed filters to make sure that everything was categorized as cleanly as possible, he said.

Democratic staffers on the House Ways and Means Committee released a copy of a BOLO list Monday that showed the word "progressive" was one of those a filters.

When House Ways and Means Democrats released additional BOLO lists soon thereafter, groups advocating both limiting government and "expanding government" were included, as were "Green Energy Organizations."  

 Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday released 15 additional IRS BOLO lists dating back to August 2010. The information on those lists further suggests that the tax agency was indiscriminate (albeit tone-deaf) in its screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status.

In Feb. 8, 2012, for instance, the BOLO list included groups advocating limiting government as well as those advocating "expanding government.” The full file reads as follows.

Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, $ocial economic reform / movement. Note: typical advocacy type issues that are currently listed on the Case Assignment Guide (CAG) do not meet these criteria unless they are also involved in activities described above.

IRS BOLO also seemed to target liberal-leaning groups starting June 15, 2012, when it listed "Green Energy Organizations" as something to flag. The concern, according to the file, was that these groups wanted 510c3 status for supplying green energy to other groups.

The IRS at the same time flagged conservative-leaning groups for screening. Starting July 11, 2012, it began spotlighting organizations dedicated to paying down the national debt. That continued until April 19.

Last May, Joan Walsh observed

so far no one has identified a single conservative group that was denied status in the controversial review, though some faced bureaucratic hurdles and had their tax-exempt status delayed.

In fact, the only known 501(c)(4) applicant to have its status denied happens to be aprogressive group: the Maine chapter of Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office. 

Under questioning from O'Reilly, Obama responded as well as he could as head of the federal government, maintaining employees in the Cincinnatti office "did not know how to implement" the applicable law and noting there has been "no smidgeon of corruption."  It would have been almost masochistic for him to point out that liberal groups were scrutinized to roughly the same degree as conservatives.  A defense of the federal government employees as simply doing their job as they were directed probably would have been untenable.

Still, it is a reminder that not all nonsense from the GOP comes from those "tea party" groups, upon which Chuck Schumer, some of his Democratic colleagues, and many members of the mainstream media focus as the right-wing threat to common sense.  Peggy Noonan suggesting the IRS trampled on the First Amendment or George Will comparing it to secretly selling arms to a terrorist regime holding American hostages reminds us that Repub propaganda can come from its mainstream figures unattached to the tea party movement.

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