From the beginning of the IRS “scandal”, it seemed obvious to me that with conservative nonprofit groups outspending liberals by 34-1, their activities would be more prone to scrutiny. Add into that mix the fact that after Citizens United, these dark money groups sprang up in order to avoid disclosure of donors, the fact that many of these “tea party” groups were actually violating the rules of nonprofits by engaging in political activities, and this scandal looked more like preemptive pushback than a “targeting” scandal.
It seems some election lawyers agree. Over the holiday weekend, when almost no one was reading politics, the New York Times published an article based on their review of IRS agency planning documents. It turns out that “The I.R.S. is already separately reviewing roughly 300 tax-exempt groups that may have engaged in improper campaign activity in past years.”
Thus, “Some election lawyers said they believed a wave of lawsuits against the I.R.S. and intensifying Congressional criticism of its handling of applications were intended in part to derail those audits, giving political nonprofit organizations a freer hand during the 2014 campaign.”
The Times examined more than a dozen of the organizations seeking nonprofit status, and they appear to have earned this scrutiny the hard way, “… a close examination of these groups and others reveals an array of election activities that tax experts and former I.R.S. officials said would provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review.”
Of course, the very lawmakers in Congress who are leading the “investigation” against the IRS are the people who stand to benefit from intimidating the IRS into stopping their investigations into the dark money groups. That would be Republican lawmakers.
Donald B. Tobin, a former lawyer with the Justice Department’s tax division, explained to the NYT, “Money is not the only thing that matters. While some of the I.R.S. questions may have been overbroad, you can look at some of these groups and understand why these questions were being asked.”
I pointed out last week that Karl Rove’s “Crossroads” was still awaiting IRS approval as tax exempt: “Rove’s Crossroads is the biggest spender, reporting spending more than $87.9 million since 2010, but it’s still waiting to be officially approved as tax exempt. Gee, do you think the IRS will be able to be objective when it comes to Crossroads’ overtly political purpose, or will they feel pressured to rubber stamp Karl so as not to cause offense?”
It seems that the IRS is indeed being pressured into granting dark money status to conservative groups, to the benefit of Congressional Republicans in the 2014 elections.
The Times detailed the partisan activities of some of these groups, from the Ohio Liberty Coalition canvassing for Romney to an Alabama Wetumpka Tea Party group sponsoring training dedicated to the “‘defeat of President Barack Obama’ while the I.R.S. was weighing its application.” Over a week ago, it was revealed that the True the Vote tea party group was ruled by a judge to have engaged in illegal activities by supporting Republicans in Texas. This group was quoted in many articles as an example of conservatives being “targeted”. In other words, many of these groups were blatantly flaunting the laws governing social welfare and nonprofit groups.
You can see why the IRS used words like “Tea Party” in sifting through the huge onslaught of new applications post Citizens United. This, however, was “inappropriate”. The understaffed and underfunded agency of the IRS was supposed to pretend they didn’t know who was gaming the system, because nothing benefits Republicans more than killing the agency’s ability to provide oversight into the illegal activities of alleged nonprofits acting in illegal ways to benefit their party.
Adding more fuel to the speculation that conservatives/Republicans hope to use their claims of persecution to game the ref is the fact that this entire narrative was dropped on the press at a time when a Republican was also leaking edited Benghazi emails to the press in an attempt to make the Obama White House and State Department look bad.
It turned out that the real emails proved the White House and State Department had not asked for the talking points to be changed in order to protect themselves, as Republicans had claimed. The press reported Republican claims as fact, just as they reported these claims of persecution by the IRS as fact. The IRS story was buttressed in the press by the interpretation of IRS briefings by “Republican Congressional aides” (seriously), and these conclusions were backed up by reporting the wild cries of persecution by True the Vote — the group a federal judge ruled had illegally acted more as a Republican PAC than a nonprofit.
Behind the witch hunts into alleged “targeting” of conservative groups, many of these groups were/are engaging in highly partisan activities directly impacting elections. So the real questions are:
Will the Obama administration once again stab the innocent-until-proven-guilty in the back in order to appease the agenda-laden screams of Republicans, who are eyeing up juicy free-for-alls in 2014, or will they stand tall for justice and let the facts play out. Will the press do its job, after being played by “Congressional Republicans” multiple times in one week? Or, will they continue to operate as stenographers for the latest Republican claims, just as they did when Bush was in office.
What we have here are Republican lawmakers who stand to benefit from the IRS witch hunt in charge of the said witch hunt.
The press might wish to make note of Jonathan Karl’s embarrassing fall from grace, and consider not taking Republican Congressional aides’ word for the meaning of a briefing or email. Just a thought.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.