On Friday, an Obama administration with an already appalling track record of scandals added an equally egregious revelation to the list. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) apologized for what they characterized as an “inappropriate” targeting of tax-exempt conservative organizations, whose names included “Tea Party” or “Patriot,” during the 2012 election campaign. Adding to severity of the debacle, the Washington Post reported Friday that the IRS division head “had no plans to release the information publicly, despite the confirmed wrongdoing.”
Unfortunately for the IRS, Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, offered up an unsolicited confession of the malfeasance during a Friday tax conference hosted by the American Bar Association. While calling it “wrong and “inappropriate,” Lerner contended that the conservative organizations singled out for additional scrutiny were not the victims of bias. “That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” she insisted. That statement stands in stark contrast to the reality that while a total of 300 groups were singled out for extra scrutiny by employees of the IRS tax-exempt unit’s main office in Cincinnati, approximately 75 were conservative organizations.
During the election, many conservative groups had complained that the IRS was subjecting them to unwarranted harassment that included sending them lengthy and intrusive questionnaire forms that sought information about individual members’ political activities, their postings on socials websites, and details about their families, much of which violates IRS policy.
According to Ms. Lerner, the unscrupulous activity was carried out by “low level” employees who unilaterally decided to create a separate category of “Patriot” and “Tea Party” organizations seeking 501(c)(4) tax exempt status. Processing the applications of organizations relegated to that category were then inordinately delayed. Ms. Lerner attempted to blame the delay on the large increase of applications for tax exempt status that had been occurring since 2008. Ironically, that is nothing more than an admission of the continuing lack of preparedness in Lerner’s IRS division.
The aforementioned questionnaires were sent out, demanding a standard of information that was seldom, if ever, applied to other groups. Under penalty of perjury, the IRS demanded to know, not only whether political candidates participated in public forums conducted by the groups, but the nature of the issues they discussed. They demanded copies of literature distributed at public forums, as well as that published by the groups on their websites. If an organization collected dues, the IRS demanded to know how much, as well as the names of all donors and recipients of grants, a violation of IRS policy. They further insisted on obtaining information, not just about every member of an organization, but their family members as well, including those who had merely considered running for office.
Following Lerner’s disclosure, the IRS released a self-serving statement noting that mistakes were made, “but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale.” The agency then attempted to obfuscate what Lerner had revealed. “It is important to recognize that all centralized applications received the same, even-handed treatment, and the majority of cases centralized were not based on a specific name. In addition, new procedures also were implemented last year to ensure that these mistakes won’t be made in the future.”
Last year? The Associated Press obtained a draft of an inspector general’s (IG) report that revealed senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny as early as 2011. The report revealed that, in addition to groups with the words “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names, those with the words “9/12 Project” were also included. The 9/12 Project is a group established by conservative radio and TV host Glenn Beck. Lerner was informed of what was going on in a meeting that took place on June 29, 2011. She told the agents to “immediately” change their criteria for flagging tax exempt groups.
Late Sunday it was revealed that even more groups were targeted. According to the Washington Post, the same report noted that IRS officials also gave added scrutiny to nonprofit groups that were critical of the government, as well as those that educated Americans about the U.S. Constitution. And the Jewish Press revealed that pro-Israel groups “whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s” also received additional attention. An IRS agent told the staunchly pro-Israel group Z STREET that because it was “connected to Israel,” it received more scrutiny and that other Israel-related organizations were assigned to “a special unit in the D.C. office to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies.”
This watchdog report contradicts testimony given by IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to a House Ways and Means subcommittee on March 22, 2012. “There’s absolutely no targeting,” Shulman said at the time.
If the IRS’s Friday admission that mistakes were made was intended as an effort to put the controversy to rest, it was a dismal failure. “We reject a simple apology that does nothing to alleviate the danger of this happening again,” said Jenny Beth Martin, a leader of Tea Party Patriots, the largest Tea Party organization in the nation. She further demanded an apology from the president, and a full-blown investigation. Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell, who characterized the agency’s behavior as “completely outrageous,” said he would be “very surprised if a class-action lawsuit wasn’t in the works here.”
Republican leaders in the Senate and House piled on as well. “I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not underway at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “An apology won’t put this issue to rest.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) promised a congressional investigation, even as he demanded to know how the White House would hold those responsible accountable for their actions. “The admission by the Obama administration that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political opponents echoes some of the most shameful abuses of government power in 20th century American history,” he said. Boehner also wondered aloud if such abuses were limited to the IRS. “Have other federal agencies used government powers to attack Americans for partisan reasons?” he asked.
Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, believes the pending report by the Inspector General (IG) regarding the investigation he and regulatory subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) demanded last June prompted the IRS to come clean. On Friday, it was announced the IG’s report would be released this week. Issa promised he would “aggressively follow up on the IG report and hold responsible officials accountable for this political retaliation.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney attempted to put some distance between the White House and the IRS, noting that while the agency is part of the Treasury Department it “is an independent enforcement agency.” What Carney failed to acknowledge is that the Treasury Department and the IRS are part of the executive branch of the federal government. Furthermore, he deflected questions about whether the White House itself would conduct an investigation, and said he didn’t know when the president became aware of the abuse. “What we know about this is of concern and we certainly find the actions taken, as reported, to be inappropriate. And we would fully expect the investigation to be thorough and for corrections to be made in a case like this,” he said.
Unfortunately, this case may only be the latest example of IRS abuse conducted by the Obama administration. On Aug. 27, 2010, an “anonymous senior administration official,” subsequently revealed to be Austan Goolsbee, gave an on-the-record background briefing to reporters, singling out Koch Industries for condemnation. In the course of that briefing, he implied that the business was cheating on its taxes. “So in this country we have partnerships, we have S corps, we have LLCs, we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax,” said Goolsbee. “Some of which are really giant firms, you know Koch Industries is a multibillion dollar business,” he added.
Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel of Koch Industries, wondered how the White House managed to procure that information from the IRS.
Investors Business Daily reminds Americans that in 1971, a memo by Nixon White House counsel John Dean described how “we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies,” even as he warned that “a low visibility of the project is imperative.” National Review’s Kevin Williams further illuminates the serious nature of these revelations, noting that the “abuse of IRS resources…were cited in the second article of impeachment against Richard Nixon.”
In other words, the Obama administration has another burgeoning scandal on its hands. Yet if one couples the administration’s penchant for political calculation with a media determined to protect Obama and company at all costs, another scandal may be exactly what is needed right now. At the precise moment when the Benghazi atrocity is reaching critical mass, the public is forced to pay attention to yet another seeming abuse of power. As one scandal piles on top of another, including the green energy scandal, and the Fast and Furious gun running scandal, the White House intel leaks, the Benghazi coverup and now an abusive IRS — all of which have engendered stonewalling from the White House, as well as ongoing investigations — a pattern emerges. At this point, however, one can only hope the public has not reached “information overload” and is not tuning events out on account of so much malfeasance occurring in such rapid succession.
One can rest assured, the Obama administration is counting on this public uninterestedness. Obviously, such cynical calculations would have to be based on an almost unprecedented level of contempt for the public by the administration and its media water-carriers. There is little doubt that both the administration and the left-wing media establishment are more than up to the task.
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