Two things before we begin:
- I realize Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials aren’t politicians, but I don’t think I need to make a “bureaucrats behaving badly” tag.
- If you were disappointed that this was not the Fail of the Week on Saturday, Benghazi was absolutely the bigger fail, because it involved death. So, bite me.
On to business. As you’re all by now aware, it turns out senior IRS officials were indeed aware of the fact that some of their underlings were targeting Tea Party and “patriot” groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, normally granted to “social welfare” organizations that only engage in politics less than half the time. These groups had complained about “harassment” from the IRS before; as it turns out, they had a point. Earlier, Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt organizations at the IRS, said this targeting was done for the purpose of “streamlining” due to an influx of such applications between 2010 and 2012.
It’s not the weakest excuse I’ve ever heard. Were it not for the fact that the IRS has a vested interest in making sure they can pump everything they can out of groups that strongly dislike paying taxes, I’d probably buy it. There’s also the small matter of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissing claims of partisanship on the ground that the IRS is an “independent enforcement agency” with only two political appointees. Actually, it’s a bureau of the Treasury Department. I guess “independence” in the Washington sense is in the eye of the beholder.
Further investigation may or may not turn up a directive from then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to go after Tea Party groups, which is necessary in order to blame the White House. Until that happens, I would avoid doing so, although some investigation into claims of IRS harassment would have been most welcome. I would also avoid accusing the IRS of pure politics, unless it’s discovered later that a roughly equal amount of Occupy-affiliated groups started applying for 501(c)(4) status within the same time frame and were not scrutinized to the same extent.
But what kind of “social welfare” work do these groups do that allows them to be designated as 501(c)(4)s? Don’t tell me it’s “standing up for taxpayers” or something; by that logic, any lobby group could get the same status for “standing up for” people. I hesitate to call their purpose “educational,” given the explicitly ideological bent. They’d be better off as 501(c)(6) organizations, as chambers of commerce are, or 527 organizations, as political action committees (PACs) and issue advocacy groups are.
But none of this excuses the IRS’s inattention to how this would look when it inevitably came out. Expect Lerner to hand in her resignation at the same time as State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland. Maybe they’ll start a consulting firm.