After several months without any investigative progress the IRS scandal is back in the headlines. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been leading the investigation since May of last year. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder protesting the appointment an Obama campaign donor to lead the FBI/Justice Department’s investigation, such as it is, into the IRS matter.
Since Administration supporters have resumed their disinformation campaign, it’s time for a review of the facts, including four reasons we know conservative or tea party groups were targeted for Unconstitutional abuse while liberal groups were not.
The scandal is rooted in IRS’s Exempt Organizations (EO) unit. Non-profit organizations apply to EO for “determinations” that they qualify for tax exempt status.
So far the investigations and committee hearings have confirmed, beyond any doubt, that Scores of Conservative or Tea Party non-profits suffered Two Unconstitutional Abuses of Bureaucratic Power
- After they sent in their applications, 25-40 page questionnaires that can take weeks of an organization’s leadership and staff time to complete, EO officials made up lists of additional questions that were outrageously invasive and inappropriate, and required hundreds of pages to answer. Since the answers to the questions were not relevant to the EO’s determination function the only plausible reason for demanding them was to harass and intimidate Conservative applicants.
- Their applications were held in limbo for periods of 18 to 36 months without action. They received neither approvals nor denials. Had their applications been denied the organizations had the right to appeal. But no action at all became a de facto denial without the right of appeal.
Four reasons we know that Conservative or Tea Party groups suffered these two abuses of power and that liberal groups did not:
- The targeting of Tea Party groups was first announced by a high ranking IRS official, Lois Lerner, who was at the time in charge of EO. She disclosed the existence of be-on-the-lookout or BOLO lists of key words such as “tea party” and “patriot” that staff used as a guide to flag applications for the two abuses of power above. From her May 10 announcement came the initial headlines that conservative groups had been mistreated.
- A few days later the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) published the report of his audit, confirming that Conservative organizations had suffered abuses 1 & 2 above. TIGTA conducted scores of interviews and reviewed thousands of documents and found no indication that any left-leaning or “progressive” groups had suffered the same two abuses.
- Some of the Tea Party groups came forward and testified at one of the Congressional hearings. Their attorneys, who have filed lawsuits against the IRS, publicly released examples of the inappropriate questions. Some of those questions are here. Even though they were invited to testify no leftist or “progressive” groups reported having had their applications delayed or having to respond to long lists of invasive questions.
- The interim head of the IRS, appointed by the President in May, acknowledged that the abuses took place and submitted to Congress his plan to “clear the backlog” of Conservative/tea party groups who were still waiting for determinations, some for three years or more.
Republicans and Conservative commentators, noting that the Democrats’ 2010 Congressional campaigns and President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign were obvious beneficiaries of sidelining Tea Party activists, accused the Administration of complicity.
It thus became imperative for Democrats to try to develop and plant in the media several misleading scenarios like these:
- IRS was only doing its job. It gave “extra scrutiny” to groups with political agendas. But the abused groups aren’t complaining about “extra scrutiny” which would normally add a few weeks to the application review process. They’re primary complaint is that their applications were set aside, that no action was taken. They waited up to three years, with their activities on hold, without receiving either approvals or denials.
- There have been vague reports of additional BOLO lists that included the key word “progressive.” It’s possible that some progressive applications were given “extra scrutiny” which could mean anything from a second pair of eyes going over the forms to a couple of clarifying questions being sent out. But so far however, there are no examples of any left-leaning groups who suffered The Two Major Abuses above. IRS officials do not claim there were any, and none have come forward to complain, even though the Congressional committees put out an open invitation. However lack of any evidence hasn’t stopped Obama supporters in the media from declaring that all political groups got “extra attention” and therefore the matter is not important. Move along. Nothing to see here.
- From the beginning Democrats had tried to insulate the Administration from the scandal by pinning all the blame on a few low-level IRS employees in the Cincinnati office, where much of EO operation was located. Even White House Spokesman Jay Carney weighed in, telling reporters on May 20, 2013 that “there were line employees at the IRS who improperly targeted conservative groups.”
But Cincinnati-outpost deception was shattered by direct testimony in Congressional hearings. The under-reported headlines: One of the “line employees” in Cincinnati, Elizabeth Hofacre testified that she was not permitted to process what were internally called “tea party cases” in the normal manner. She was ordered to wait for instructions from Carter Hull, an IRS attorney in Washington D.C. Eventually she requested and received a transfer to a different job out of frustration with Mr. Hull and the restrictive process.
Carter Hull testified that he also was told not to process the applications – not to issue approvals or denials. He was instructed to wait for further instructions from Lois Lerner, and the IRS Chief Counsel, William Wilkins who is a Presidential appointee.
Thus, through their sworn testimony these two IRS employees placed accountability at the very top of the IRS chain of command in Washington, and opened a potential connection to the White House.
The IRS scandal highlights fundamental problems with our massive, federal government run largely by unaccountable bureaucrats:
- EO is empowered to apply an opaque screening process that facilitates inconsistent, and even capricious treatment of applicant organizations. Bureaucrats can, at will, harm some groups while giving a boost to others.
- Lack of accountability. The House of Representatives had been trying since May to learn who is responsible for the two Unconstitutional buses above. But the IRS, like all federal bureaucracies protects itself by making it nearly impossible for Congress to perform it’s Constitutionally mandated duties of oversight. Many people have many ambiguous roles in overseeing the application review process making it difficult to identify a decision maker.
But Congressional Democrats are not interested in solving these fundamental problems. Unaccountable bureaucracies with unchecked power are the intended result of the laws they have enacted for decades, especially their two most recent triumphs: ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank Financial regulation law that places virtually limitless power in the hands of bureaucrats.
For their part, Republicans seem to believe they must tie this scandal directly to the Obama Administration in order to maintain even minimal media attention. Obviously, it’s a scandal if the President or high ranking Administration officials were involved. But even if they were not involved this incident should be treated as an alarm bell, another indicator that the raw power of unaccountable bureaucracies must be curtailed.
So far Republicans haven’t yet put much emphasis on these fundamental problems But we can hope.