Politics

Did the IRS target progressive groups, too?

Did the IRS target progressive groups, too?

Yesterday afternoon brought a wave of stories about the new head of the IRS, Danny Werfel – who used to work in Barack Obama’s budget office – announcing that IRS harassment of non-profit groups was “broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed,” as the Associated Press put it.  This was seized upon by a grateful Left-media complex as “proof” that the persecution of conservative groups was an overrated scandal, because supposedly “progressive” groups had been targeted, too:

The IRS has been under fire since last month after admitting it targeted tea party and other conservative groups that wanted the tax-exempt designation for tough examinations. While investigators have said that agency screening for those groups had stopped in May 2012, Monday’s revelations made it clear that screening for other kinds of organizations continued until earlier this month, when the agency’s new chief, Danny Werfel, says he discovered it and ordered it halted.

The IRS document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still underway. It blamed the continued use of inappropriate criteria by screeners on “a lapse in judgment” by the agency’s former top officials. The document did not name the officials, but many top leaders have been replaced.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released 15 lists of terms that the IRS agency used and has provided to congressional investigators. Some of the lists, which evolved over time, used the terms “Progressive” and “Tea Party” and others including “Medical Marijuana,” ”Occupied Territory Advocacy,” ”Healthcare legislation,” ”Newspaper Entities” and “Paying National Debt.”

The lists were dated between August 2010 and April 2013 — the month before the IRS targeting of conservative groups was revealed. They ranged from 11 pages to 17 pages but were heavily blacked out to protect sensitive taxpayer information.

The Administration’s defenders keep trying to reset public memory of this scandal.  To refresh everyone’s memory of actual reality, this was not about the discovery of a few memos that happened to mention “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” etc. as search terms.  It’s about actual abuse of those organizations, which came forward by the hundreds to file detailed complaints about it.  Where are the “progressive” groups with documented complaints about IRS agents demanding every social media post they ever wrote, instructing them not to exercise free speech in certain ways, or delaying their applications for tax-exempt status for month after month?  As far as I know, the count currently stands at zero… and I suspect that if they thought they could get away with it, a few of them would have tried falsifying such claims at the height of media coverage, to drain some of the pressure away.

Would progressive groups that really did suffer Tea Party-style abuse be reluctant to complain about it, because they didn’t want to damage President Obama?  It’s hard to see why they would hold any such reservations.  No hard evidence linking Obama to the IRS scandal has been uncovered.  Polls showed the public reluctant to make such a connection, although opinion eventually seems to have turned a bit, largely because Obama has been working so hard to remain invisible throughout the crisis – he’s acting in a way that makes him look somewhat guilty, or at least embarrassed, to the casual observer.

Remember, the broad consensus among scandal-watchers – including many who are sympathetic to Obama – is that IRS officials, along with those at other agencies, went after Obama’s political opponents on their own initiative, after listening to the President demonize them for years.  A few well-documented cases of abused liberal groups would have gone a long way toward disputing that analysis, adding fuel to the “rogue employees” theory.  This whole scandal began because the IRS admitted it was applying standards unfairly to conservative groups, which had been complaining about it for quite some time, leading to an Inspector General report that top officials wanted to get in front of.

What remains is figuring out who gave the orders to begin this systemic abuse, which we’ve already learned went far beyond the lower levels of the Cincinnati office.  Lost in all the “progressives were targeted, too!” trumpeting yesterday was Werfel’s statement about a “lapse in judgment by the agency’s former top officials.”  That’s 100 percent different from the “low-level employees” lie the IRS was pushing feverishly during the first few weeks of the scandal, isn’t it?

Writing at Conservative Intelligence Briefing, David Freddoso points out that liberals using these new BOLO (Be On the Lookout) lists to wave the scandal away are ignoring the difference between the types of tax-exempt organization:

The 14 new IRS documents do mention the term “progressive,” but only in describing applications for the coveted 501 c(3) status, which confers tax deductibility on donations. The documents where the term “progressive” appears (or wasn’t redacted) instruct agents that c(3) status is not appropriate for groups that conduct overtly political activity. Unlike 501 c(4) groups — nearly all of those involved in the Tea Party targeting scandal — 501 c(3) groups are not permitted to engage in political advocacy at all.

Freddoso also notes that these supposedly exculpatory documents actually provide specific instructions to treat the conservative groups differently, a point also made by Eliana Johnson at National Review:

A November 2010 version of the list obtained by National Review Online, however, suggests that while the list did contain the word “progressive,” screeners were instructed to treat progressive groups differently from tea-party groups. Whereas they were merely alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status “may not be appropriate” for progressive groups — 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from conducting any political activity — they were told to send applications from tea-party groups off to IRS higher-ups for further scrutiny.

That means the applications of progressive organizations could be approved by line agents on the spot, while those of tea-party groups could not. Furthermore, the November 2010 list noted that tea-party cases were “currently being coordinated with EOT” — Exempt Organizations Technical, a group of tax lawyers in Washington, D.C. Those of progressive organizations were not.

Johnson also reminds us that IRS agents have testified that conservative groups were aggressively targeted on an ideological basis, while top official Holly Paz admitted that the agency was aggressively hunting down “Tea Party groups,” but laughably claimed that everyone at the IRS thought of “Tea Party” as a generic term for all tax-exempt groups that might engage in political activity.  None of this testimony is erased by the discovery of a few documents with the word “progressive” mixed into the watch lists.  And it’s tough to understand why a high-level official, Lois Lerner, would be asked to resign, placed on paid administrative leave when she refused, and take the Fifth Amendment to evade congressional testimony about a “non-scandal.”

Update: In the course of assembling documentation for its class-action suit against the IRS, the American Center for Law and Justice just revealed that twelve different IRS units were targeting conservative groups between 2010 and 2012.  This destroys the efforts of the Democrat saboteur on House Oversight, Rep. Elijah Cummings, to portray the scandal as the work of a single unit.

Has there been a report of anything so massive and widespread directed at liberal groups?  How about anything half as massive?

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