Confession: I never took seriously complaints that the IRS was harassing Tea Party organizations who filed for tax-exempt status. It didn’t seem impossible, but the IRS can be difficult to anybody, regardless of political affiliation. Don’t be paranoid!
The legacy of the Worst IRS Commissioner Ever gains new luster with this shocking revelation:
In a practice that conservatives complained about during the 2012 election campaign, organizations that used the words “patriots” or “Tea Party” in their tax-exempt status filings were flagged by the IRS for further review.
Lois Lerner, director of the IRS tax-exempt office, said the practice “was absolutely incorrect and it was inappropriate.”
Speaking at an American Bar Association conference in Washington, Lerner said, “We would like to apologize for that.”
Oh, but don’t worry:
Lerner said the screening process was “absolutely not” influenced by anyone in the Obama administration.
All righty, then. Not even the senior administration official who said this about the president of another exempt organization:
“President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS.”
In fact, that was the most senior administration official of all.
The tone of any organization is set at the top. Unwittingly or not, the President’s statement endorsed IRS harassment of his opponents in a Chicago-style wink-nudge kind of way. As it’s safe to assume that IRS employees overwhelmingly voted for the President, a hint might have been all that was needed.
His subordinate IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman wasn’t worried about it. In March 2012 The Worst Commissioner Ever testified:
The Internal Revenue Service is not making it harder for tea party groups to attain tax-exempt status because of their political views, the agency’s chief told Congress on Thursday.
“As you know, we pride ourselves on being a non-political, non-partisan organization,” Shulman said.
Many tea party groups are applying under section 501 (c) (4) of the federal tax code, which grants tax-exempt status as long as organizations are not primarily involved in activity that could influence an election. That determination is up to the IRS.“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.
In Washingtonspeak, that’s “inoperative.” Yet whatever “mistakes were made,” they don’t bother the IRS enough to fire anybody, as far as anybody knows. This is an organization that will fire employees for peeking at movie star tax returns. But political harassment — well, mistakes were made.
Worse still, after the initial revelation, the IRS had the nerve to say this:
Mistakes were made initially, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale.
Right. Because “patriot” and “Tea Party” have no political connotations. Exemption applications with those names were beaten to death just by some amazing coincidence.
The next time some poor schmuck is on trial for not reporting income, he should try saying that his underreporting of taxes “was in no way due to any tax avoidance rationale,” just to see how it works.
So I stand corrected. I’ll remember now paranoia about the IRS is perfectly justified. This is a big deal, and it should result in firings. If it’s a firing offence to look at a starlet’s 1040, it should at least be as serious to use the power of the IRS to pick on disfavored political groups.
The TaxProf of course has an excellent roundup. And the right side blog world is all over this:
James Taranto: The New Nixon
Megan McArdle, IRS Singled Out Conservative Groups for Extra Scrutiny
Kevin Williamson, ‘Mistakes Were Made’