Introducing the IRS's New Slogan

"Better Late than Never!"

One of the groups at the center of the IRS scandal has finally received its tax-exempt status after a three-year delay prompted by a politically driven move to block Tea Party and other conservative groups, many that slammed the president during his re-election, from winning the special status.

TheTeaParty.net, one of the nation's largest Tea Party groups, told Secrets that the long-sought declaration arrived Monday, well over three years after they applied for 501c(4) tax-exempt status in March of 2010, the start of the Tea Party movement. The notice came in a letter from the IRS.

The group said it endured harassment by agents targeting mostly conservative non-profit groups for their political donors, agenda and even reading lists, all against the rules. Those agents were headed by the recently retired Lois Lerner.

"After four years battling Lois Lerner's shock troops, we are relieved that the IRS has relented and finally recognized our right to operate as a non-profit,” said Todd Cefaratti, founder of TheTeaParty.net. “First they tried to ignore us. Then they tried to discredit us. And then they tried to deny our legal rights. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end to a sad chapter in our government’s targeting of its own citizens," he added.

I am sure that the IRS expects praise and congratulations for the mercy and kindness it believes it has shown in this case.

The Falsehoods Surrounding the IRS Scandal

Tired of being told that the IRS scandal is a "fake" one? So is Bradley Smith, who takes apart false claims surrounding the issue:

The Internal Revenue Service's scandalous targeting of tea party and conservative groups refuses to die, as one by one the administration's explanations prove untrue.

We were told that the White House, like the rest of the country, learned about the program on May 10 through a planted question asked of then IRS official Lois Lerner at an American Bar Association conference. Turns out the White House knew earlier. We were told the targeting was the work of a few rogue IRS employees in Cincinnati. Then those employees insisted that they were being managed from Washington.

We were told that no political appointees were involved, but now we know the scandal goes at least to the office of Obama appointee and IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins. We were told that liberal groups were targeted, too. But then the IRS's inspector general, whose report exposed the harassment, clarified that only conservative groups were targeted.

Now the administration line is that the scandal is nonetheless "phony." That assertion is part of a Democratic counteroffensive contending that the tea party and conservative groups applying for "charitable" tax status never should have sought such IRS approval.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, argued on "Meet the Press" on May 19 that conservative groups were, "under the guise of a charity, [using] undisclosed millions of dollars to do political campaigns." At a May hearing, Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) claimed that the groups were supposed to spend their money on "charitable activities," and demanded of the IRS, "How could you all in the IRS allow the tax breaks funded basically by the taxpayer [to be spent] on these political campaign expenditures?"

Liberal columnist Jeffrey Toobin has also taken up the theme that the groups were seeking improper tax advantages. Writing in the May 14 issue of the New Yorker, Mr. Toobin argued that if approved by the IRS, the tea party groups would not pay taxes on contributions received. "In return for the tax advantage," he wrote, these groups "must refrain from traditional partisan political activity, like endorsing candidates."

This attack is wrong on the law, and cynical as politics. As these IRS apologists well know, liberal groups, such as Moveon.org, have long had the same tax status as that requested by the tea party and conservative groups—and that status is not of a "charity."

“No Obamacare, Please. We Are the Head of the IRS.”

Daniel Werfel would much rather keep his current health care plan than switch to Obamacare, thank you very much. I guess this means that when it comes to targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny after they apply for 501(c)(4) status, Werfel can put in overtime hours with reckless abandon.

Michael Bloomberg's Got Some 'Splainin' to Do

If the mayor of New York wants to carry on a crusade against guns, that's his business. But there is something rotten about the way that he's doing it

The name “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” is well known as Mike Bloomberg’s gun-control arm, which he spends his personal fortune through on ads. Yet the group’s website is registered to, and handled by, official city government servers and staffers.

Domain names for MAIG were registered in 2006 by the New York City Department of Information and Technology, and have remained on official city web servers ever since.

Yet the group’s “action fund,” through which he has piped at least $14 million of his own money in ads over gun control this year alone, is registered as a 501c4, a nonprofit “social welfare” group with the same tax status as, say, the Karl Rove-linked Crossroads GPS or Organizing for Action, President Obama’s grassroots arm. And it raises questions about why a website associated with the group is being managed by City Hall.

In fact, the various pieces of the mayor’s efforts appear as a confusing muddle online, with sites that are ostensibly not part of the 501c4 nonetheless being visually dominated by entreaties to click through to the ones that are. There’s little indication that these are different entities with different oversight.

At minimum, the use of a city web server and city employees underscore what critics have long derided as a blurring of the lines between government resources and Bloomberg’s own multi-billion-dollar fortune, his company, and his pet interests in his three terms as mayor.

I seem to recall that maybe, possibly, just perhaps, there was a time when Bloomberg concentrated on addressing the problems and challenges affecting New York, instead of trying to be mayor of the entire planet and engaging in potential impropriety in the process. I'd like to think that I am not wrong in this recollection, but even if I am right, one is left to wonder what happened to the Michael Bloomberg who focused on being a mayor instead of being a crusader. 

Your Government at Work (IRS Edition)

So, despite an order to save money because of the sequester, and despite an IRS scandal that should by itself make any talk of bonuses for IRS employees verbotenthe IRS is going to pay out $70 million extra to its workers for a job not-so-well-done.

Gee, imagine how much IRS workers would get if they were actually good at their jobs. 

IRS Follies: More on the Supposed Non-Scandal That Actually Is a Scandal

Another blow to the theory that "rogue agents" in a local IRS office were responsible for targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny: 

An Internal Revenue Service supervisor in Washington says she was personally involved in scrutinizing some of the earliest applications from tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status, including some requests that languished for more than a year without action.

Holly Paz
, who until recently was a top deputy in the division that handles applications for tax-exempt status, told congressional investigators she reviewed 20 to 30 applications. Her assertion contradicts initial claims by the agency that a small group of agents working in an office in Cincinnati were solely responsible for mishandling the applications.

Ron Fournier points out that second-term Obama administration scandals are biting into the president's approval ratings:

There is a common element to the so-called Obama scandals—the IRS targeting of conservatives, the fatal attack in Benghazi, and widespread spying on U.S. journalists and ordinary Americans. It is a lack of credibility.

In each case, the Obama administration has helped make controversies worse by changing its stories, distorting facts, and lying.

The abuse of trust may be taking a toll on President Obama's reputation.

CNN/ORC poll of 1,104 adult Americans June 11-13 shows the president's job approval rating at 45 percent, down 8 percentage points in a month.

Among young voters, only 48 percent approve of the president's performance, a 17-point decline since the last CNN/ORC poll. These are the president's most loyal supporters, and the future of American politics.

The drop in presidential approval is across the board, affecting Obama's standing on every issue measured: The economy (down 2 points); foreign affairs (down 5 points); federal budget (down 4 points); terrorism (down 13 points); and immigration (down 4 points).

Asked for the first time by CNN/ORC about the president's handling of "government surveillance of U.S. citizens," 61 percent of Americans said they disapprove.

Pants on Fire (Jim McDermott Edition)

Politifact is not exactly known for being a propaganda organ for the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, but even it is forced to call shenanigans on Congressman Jim McDermott:

At a House Ways and Means committee hearing Tuesday, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., listened closely to the stories from members of groups that were snagged when the IRS cast a wide net for politically active organizations seeking tax-exempt status. All of the groups advocate for conservative causes, from opposing gay marriage to promoting a broad tea party agenda.

While McDermott said he was sorry they had been singled out, and that "the IRS has unequivocally made a mistake here," he was more focused on the lack of clear legal rules that should guide the IRS.

"Let’s not get lost," McDermott said. "During the Bush administration liberal groups were targeted without any concern by Mr. Issa or anyone else in this committee." (Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.)

This caught our eye. Were liberal groups targeted when a Republican held the White House? And if so, were the circumstances back then similar to what has come to light today?

[. . .]

McDermott said liberal groups were targeted during the Bush administration. While some liberal groups were audited, the numbers we could find were small, largely confined to 501(c)(3) nonprofits where the rules are more strict, and stemmed from complaints levied by outsiders.

In contrast, the current case was fueled by internal bureaucratic rules applied to a significantly larger number of organizations. A group’s name or its policy agenda triggered the IRS action, rather than a complaint or the group’s specific activities. While there is an element of truth in McDermott’s statement, the systematic nature of the IRS actions between 2010 and 2012 represents a distinctly different set of circumstances.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Dare we hope that the rest of the media will pick up this pushback and force McDermott to retract? I mean, holding politicians accountable for their misstatements and fibs is a big part of the media's job. Isn't it?

Lame Excuses for the IRS Scandal Get Lamer and Bite More Dust

Recall that from the outset, after it was revealed that the IRS was targeting conservatives and conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, IRS-apologists came out with the claim that the unwarranted scrutiny was the result of staffers in Ohio offices who went rogue.  As such, according to the apologists, we were not supposed to think that the agency as a whole was rotten to the core; just that there were a few isolated bad apples who in no way, shape, or form were representative of the IRS as a whole.

That theory never held much water to begin with. It holds even less water now

An IRS staffer in Cincinnati told congressional investigators that a Washington official was the driving force behind the targeting of Tea Party organizations in 2010, and showed unprecedented interest in those groups’ tax-exempt applications.

Elizabeth Hofacre, the Cincinnati staffer, said that she started receiving applications from Tea Party groups to sift through in April, 2010. Hofacre’s handling of those cases, she said, was highly influenced by Carter Hull, an IRS lawyer in Washington.

Hofacre said that she integrated questions from Hull into her follow-ups with Tea Party groups, and that Hull had to approve the letters seeking more information that she sent out to those organizations. That process, she said, was both unusual and “demeaning.”

“One of the criteria is to work independently and do research and make decisions based on your experience and education,” Hofacre said, according to transcripts reviewed by The Hill. “Whereas in this case, I had no autonomy at all through the process.”

“I thought it was over the top,” she added, in interviews held by investigators in both parties from the House Oversight and Ways and Means committees. “I am not sure where it came from, but it was a bit unusual.”

Hofacre, who oversaw Tea Party applications from April, 2010, to October, 2010, said Hull eventually became slow to endorse her letters. She eventually took another position within the IRS that year, after dealing with what she called “irate” applicants.

“And I see their point,” Hofacre said. “Even if a decision isn’t favorable, they deserve some kind of treatment and they deserve, you know, timeliness.”

The story goes on to state the following entirely unremarkable conclusion:

[t]he investigators’ interviews with Hofacre and another Cincinnati staffer, Gary Muthert, cast some doubt on statements from the former acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, and other agency officials that the targeting of Tea Party groups was limited to Cincinnati.

 

Accountability Has Become Such an Antiquated Concept

Gene Healy  on the president who is never there:

"Hey, don't look at me -- I'm just the president!" That's the common thread in President Obama's response to his recent scandal eruptions, from IRS harassment of Tea Partiers to his Justice Department's spying on AP reporters. Like everybody else, Obama learns about these things via cable news, according to press secretary Jay Carney.

Obama's flight from responsibility punctured the stratosphere in his recent speech on "the Future of Our Fight against Terrorism" at the National Defense University in D.C. In the speech Obama seemed to position himself as the loyal opposition to his own administration.

He worried that "perpetual war ... will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways." Look at the current situation at Guantanamo Bay, Citizen Obama chided, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike ... Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw?" Obama pronounced himself "troubled" by the proliferation of drone strikes in an ever-expanding war and "the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable."

All valid concerns, compassionately expressed. So how can we get this guy into the room when the big decisions are being made?

Mitt Romney may have had his faults as a candidate. No, check that; Mitt Romney most certainly had his faults as a candidate. But I have a hard time believing that he would have been as disengaged a president as the guy we actually re-elected in November of last year has turned out to be.

 

Scandal Watch (More IRS Follies)

Sigh . . .

  • The IRS has problems with you if you are a conservative group that wants to apply for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status. By contrast, the IRS has no problems whatsoever with itself when it wants to spend money like it is going out of style.
  • 88 IRS employees have documents related to the investigation of the IRS's targeting of conservative groups. Remember that this story is allegedly only a "so-called scandal," and remember as well--as the CNN story points out--that the initial explanation given for the targeting of conservative groups is that a select few "low-level employees" in one local office decided to go rogue.
  • Does this read like just a "so-called scandal" to you?
A group of anti-abortion activists in Iowa had to promise the Internal Revenue Service it wouldn’t picket in front of Planned Parenthood.

Catherine Engelbrecht’s family and business in Texas were audited by the government after her voting-rights group sought tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Retired military veteran Mark Drabik of Nebraska became active in and donated to conservative causes, then found the IRS challenging his church donations.

While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.

The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.

Scandal Watch (The Saga that Won't End)

The latest:

  • The IRS targeting of conservative groups is only a "so-called scandal" in the eyes of some, who coincidentally, probably don't like conservatives all that much. Equally coincidental, I am sure, those calling the IRS scandal a "so-called scandal" are members of the media, which we are repeatedly assured is never ideologically biased and treats both sides of the partisan divide fairly and honorably.
  • Rich Lowry points out that the IRS scandal--which really is much more than a "so-called scandal"--"is a scandal of administrators and bureaucrats, of otherwise faceless people endowed with immense power over their fellow citizens and running free of serious oversight from elected officials." Which makes you feel good about all of the legislation passed that puts more power in these people's hands, right?
  • Eric Holder is in trouble, as he is facing possible perjury allegations regarding his comments on the Justice Department's investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen. He has responded to the allegations by inviting media outlets to a discussion with him on how the issue could have been better handled, and what can be done in the future to conduct leak investigations without shredding the First Amendment. Here's the catch: the discussion with the media outlets was supposed to be off the record. So presumably, Holder would discuss better ways to conduct leak investigations and media outlets could not tell the public--the same public that may actually be concerned about the shredding of the First Amendment--anything about his comments. To their credit, a host of media outlets refused to meet with Holder under these conditions. Oh, and the attorney general is “also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” over how the leak investigation was handled, which is nice to know. Too bad he refuses to let the public find out how his "creeping sense of personal remorse" will translate into a change in policy at the Justice Department.

Scandal Watch (A Continuing Series)

So, let's review the latest:

  • Concerning the IRS scandal, we learn that Lois Lerner was "directly involved" in the targeting of conservative groups. This included signing letters that contained "a list of detailed questions of the kind that a Treasury inspector general’s audit found to be inappropriate."
  • Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4), which means that it is supposed to act in a non-partisan capacity when engaging in advocacy. So naturally, the president of the United States--who is anything but non-partisan--has signed a fundraising letter on behalf of Organizing for Action, which includes a request to register at this site, which as you will note, contains the name of the non-non-partisan president of the United States in its URL. As of two weeks ago, Organizing for Action has not yet applied for tax-exempt status from the IRS, but I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that when they do, they will encounter no problems whatsoever with their application. To be sure, the IRS won't want to cause yet another scandal by giving yet another prominent 501(c)(4) applicant a hard time, but the point is that plenty of equivalent conservative groups have had to encounter a hard time at the hands of the IRS, while liberal groups have gotten nothing but the kindest cooperation.
  • I am pleased to note that Jonathan Turley has decided to continue to eat his Wheaties:
Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the administration's sweeping surveillance of journalists with the Associated Press. In the greatest attack on the free press in decades, the Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors in at least three AP offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Holder, however, proceeded to claim absolute and blissful ignorance of the investigation, even failing to recall when or how he recused himself.Yet, this was only the latest attack on the news media under Holder's leadership. Despite his record, he expressed surprise at the hearing that the head of the Republican National Committee had called for his resignation. After all, Holder pointed out, he did nothing. That is, of course, precisely the point. Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.

Like dumber follows dumb, the scandal of politicized IRS tax enforcement has been followed by calls for a "special prosecutor." Republicans are predictably leading this call against a Democratic Administration, but this is one case in which the GOP should hope it doesn't get its way.

The case for a special counsel is that Attorney General Eric Holder can't be trusted to investigate his Administration, and that the Administration will stonewall Congress. We don't trust Mr. Holder either, but letting him pass the buck to a special prosecutor is doing him a favor. This scandal is best handled in Congressional hearings that educate the public in the next year rather than wait two or three years for potential indictments.

In Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, the lead character is struck with amnesia, unable to remember critical events even as he’s trying to save the world. Let’s borrow that useful plot device and imagine if American journalists woke up and couldn’t remember who was president. It would be interesting to ask them a few questions:

What would you think of a president under whom the IRS targeted his harshest political opponents, during his reelection campaign?

What would you think of a president whose obsession with leaks and secrecy was so great that he used the Justice Department to obtain phone records of reporters, in violation of Justice’s established procedure?

What would you think of a president whose head of the Department of Justice signed a criminal warrant against a leading journalist working for the news organization most critical of the president—and monitored the movements of the journalist and even went after his mother’s phone records?

What would you think of an administration that directed the president’s press secretary repeatedly to deliver false information concerning the death of an American ambassador?

These are not hypothetical questions—and yet there is an entire class of journalist so invested in a certain moral and ethical image of the president its members are unable to entertain facts that might tarnish that image. They are the pro-Obama equivalent of Birthers, never letting emerging facts cloud the conclusion they’ve already committed to hold.

The same journalists who did not hesitate to assume the worst of previous Republican administrations—
E.J. Dionne, Walter Pincus, Jack Shafer, to name a few—are now tying themselves in knots trying to explain that there is nothing to see when the IRS probes Obama’s enemies or that the Justice Department secretly seizing the phone records of one of their peers and his mother was really a good thing. One has to wonder if it were their mother and her records, how that mother-son conversation would play out.

“Well, Mom, you know, the president has to do these things, and I’ve told you time and again not to email Aunt Sally about my sources. Is that any way to keep hope alive?”

Stevens was Mitt Romney's chief strategist in the 2012 presidential election. If he strategized as tough as he wrote this column, we might now have a new president.