As the IRS scandal widens, it appears more than Tea Party-affiliated groups were harmed by its illegal and/or unethical actions. Today at 10 am eastern, six groups will be represented in a Ways & Means Committee hearing on the subject. From The Hill:
The House Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday will hear testimony from six conservative non-profit groups that were targeted by the IRS for their political beliefs, including one anti-abortion rights group that says the IRS tried to limit its protesting of Planned Parenthood.
Representatives of four other Tea Party groups will also testify….These groups are the Laurens County Tea Party of South Carolina, the Wetumpka Tea Party of Alabama, the San Fernando Valley Patriots of California, and Linchpins of Liberty in Tennesee.
The IRS has admitted that it applied extra scrutiny to groups seeking tax-exempt status when they had conservative-sounding names, such as those that included “Tea Party” or “liberty.” At the same time, applications filed by left-leaning groups were approved as usual, according to experts in the process.
Of course, these groups weren’t the only ones targeted, which is why a pro-life organization and a traditional marriage group are also testifying today. Furthermore – though not represented at the hearing – 69% of taxpayers claiming the tax credit for adoption were audited in 2012…and only disallowed 1.5% of the time. And the IRS’ leadership’s clear bias– including letting Lois Lerner have paid time off – makes this scandal an issue of accountability as well as policy and process.
At the hearing, Members of Congress will critique the IRS, defend the Tea Party, and offer various slogans more designed for press releases and impressing constituents than making actual changes to the way the IRS is run. However, they should answer the following questions as well:
1. This scandal should be the issue that finally pushes Congress to enact tax reform – yet a recent Politico article indicated political theater may prevent tax reform. Are you, as a Member of the tax committee in the House, dedicated to pushing tax reform into law by the end of 2013, at the very least to prevent the continued weaponizing of the IRS?
2. How does this scandal impact your view of the non-profit structure in America? Are changes needed? If so, what are they?
3. How high do you think this scandal goes? What should the Administration do differently to investigate, hold people accountable, etc.?
4. Many Democrats in Congress called for the IRS to give conservative organizations extra attention during the 2010 and 2012 elections, including a number of prominent Senators now condemning the IRS for doing exactly that. Additionally, it could be argued that actions by Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Levin and Committee Members Becerra and Pascrell implicitly called for specific targeting Do you think your colleagues are culpable in this scandal?
5. How much does this scandal worry you regarding implications for Obamacare, given the IRS’ prominent role in implementation of the law?
6. Will you institute the “Lerner Rule?” Meaning, if a citizen is audited, he or she can simply take the Fifth and escape whatever he or she did without consequences?
One side note: At the same hearing, held in May 2012, where Rep. Becerra asked for more investigations by the IRS, Texas Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant became one of the first Members of Congress to address what would become the IRS scandal:
One lawmaker used the hearing as an opportunity for a jab at the IRS, which has questioned several social-welfare organizations, organized as 501(c)(4)’s under the tax code, about their political leanings and activities. While social-welfare organizations can engage in political activity, that can’t be their primary purpose. Nevertheless, the designation includes groups such as American Crossroads, founded to help elect Republicans.
Rep. Kenny Marchant, a Republican from Texas, said the IRS had “singled out” several social-welfare organizations in his district for questioning about their support of political campaigns. Bruce Hopkins, a lawyer who represents charities, testified that he had represented several clients who had undergone such grilling. “The IRS does seem to be asking for a lot more detail in this context,” he said.
Mr. Marchant urged Mr. Boustany to invite the IRS to a future hearing “so that we can ask the IRS why there is this focus on these groups.”
Congress has a real opportunity to reform the IRS. In order to make intelligent decisions about the cancer that is political targeting, they need to ask hard, pointed, and smart questions. They must be up to the challenge; our country’s faith in the process depends on it.