IRS taking heat from both sides of America

eyeglasses and newspaper blue background

As is now well-known, the IRS admitted on Friday it had targeted “Tea Party” and “Patriot” groups for special investigation when they applied for 501(c)(4) status tax-exempt status. This is after the then-IRS Commissioner categorically denied any such targeting was taking place, even though higher-ups at the IRS have known about the investigations since at least the summer of 2011.

The IRS is getting hammered for this egregious abuse of power, which the Wall Street Journal reports was worse than initially surmised – a forthcoming report from the IRS’ Inspector General (IG) notes investigations targeted those “worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to “make America a better place to live.”

In no particular order, some of the bipartisan hammering the IRS has taken since Friday:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Representatives Dave Camp (R-MI), Eric Cantor (R-VA), John Boehner (R-OH) and Charles Boustany (R-LA) are some of the highest-profile Members of Congress calling for the White House to launch a full investigation into what went on. Reps. Camp, Cantor, and Boustany have said they are launching their own investigations as well.

The Washington Post editorial board was aghast:

So it was appalling to learn Friday that the IRS had improperly targeted conservative groups for scrutiny. It was almost as disturbing that President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have not personally apologized to the American people and promised a full investigation.

Mark Levin gave an inside account of what happened to the IRS’ investigation of his involvement with Tea Party groups.

ABC’s Nightline host Terry Moran compared this practice to President Nixon on his Twitter page.

Steve Benen of MSNBC fully backed the Tea Party’s response to the IRS’ admission – on Rachel Maddow’s blog, of all places.

Ezra Klein had no sympathy for the IRS:

Let’s be very clear: because the Internal Revenue Service holds so much private data, and because it can make people’s lives absolutely miserable, it is of paramount importance in our political system that it both is, and is perceived as, an apolitical entity. If it discriminated against tea party groups that attempted to register as 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, then that’s a grave offense, and it needs to be investigated thoroughly and dealt with severely.

Joe Klein of Time pulled no punches in his commentary, either, and called for those who did the targeting to be fired.

Ross Douthat at The New York Times said this might have been the result of the “scary Tea Partier” meme of the last four years, and noted the ACLU stood with Tea Party groups in this situation.

And, lastly, the White House threw the IRS under the bus as soon as it could.

So why the admission now, other than perhaps it comes just over six months after the 2012 elections? The Atlantic has the details:

The Associated Press’ Stephen Ohlemacher reports a federal watchdog report coming out this week will show senior IRS officials knew about the unfair scrutiny as far back as 2011. The report from the Treasury Department’s inspector general shows Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, was informed that groups with “Tea Party,” ”Patriot” or “9/12 Project” in their names were being targeted for extra questioning at a meeting on June 29, 2011. During Lerner’s apology on Friday, he blamed the targeting on lower-level tax agents. The report seems to show Lerner was telling the truth on Friday. The report shows he told the agents to change the criteria for flagging groups “immediately.”

 In other words, the IRS was trying to get in front of the report. Which is absolutely shameful – where was this public admission last year, before the election?

In the end, three important questions need to be answered. First, why did Lerner not come out last year, when the investigation started, and admit what was going on? Admitting fault as a way to beat out the news cycle of a damning report is hardly the way to be transparent. Furthermore, it would have prevented Tea Party groups from appearing paranoid in the media during the election cycle. Lastly, it would have sent outside organizations scurrying to investigate the IRS prior to the election to give voters full information before the election.

More importantly, how much did the former Commission know when he testified to Congress in March 2012? Did he lie about not knowing of such investigations?

The only logical conclusion is Lerner and others did not want voters knowing what the IRS was doing prior to the election.

The White House’s initial reaction was to say the then-Commissioner of the IRS was appointed by President Bush, and therefore the investigations could not have been politically motivated. The WSJ reports Lerner also came to the IRS under President Bush. And the IG report will apparently back Lerner’s claim that the Tea Party targeting was indeed a low-level effort at the IRS.

All of which leads to the conclusion that even if higher-ups weren’t involved, the IRS needs a major shake-up in both its internal structure and its levels of transparency. Either its leadership is ignorant to the point of incompetence, or ignorance was feigned. Either way, someone’s head needs to roll over this.

However, so far it looks like the White House and IRS are not going to fire or punish anyone for this egregious abuse of power. We urge you to call your Members of Congress to tell them to investigate the IRS as soon as possible, to prevent this kind of unconscionable prejudice from happening again.