The Public Train Wreck that Is the IRS Scandal
Just when you think you have seen it all …
We’ll start by noting yet more evidence that the IRS’s audits of political groups was entirely inequitable in nature:
When the Barack H. Obama Foundation sought tax-exempt status to raise money for good works in Kenya, the Internal Revenue Service provided quick help.
The IRS approved charitable status for the foundation, which was run by President Obama’s brother and named after his father, in about a month’s time. The IRS also agreed to give the group this important financial status retroactively, back to 2009, when it had begun its fundraising.
The 34 days the IRS’s Cincinnati office took to process the foundation’s application stands in contrast to the waits of several months — and sometimes longer than a year — that several conservative groups say they experienced with the same office. Obama has apologized, saying Americans have a right to be angry that the office improperly targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
The Internal Revenue Service scandal involving the apparently unjustified targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups has also hit home with the Hispanic community.
George Rodriguez, former president of the San Antonio Tea Party, said that when the organization applied for non-profit status, leaders were intimidated by IRS workers with excessive paperwork and meddling questions.
“They asked us all sorts of things that were out of the norm,” Rodriguez, now head of the conservative South Texas Alliance, told Fox News Latino. “We knew these questions were not the norm and we had our suspicions about them.”
Rodriguez said the group received a questionnaire from the IRS with “well over 50 questions,” including inquiries into who the group met with, where they held their meetings, who was in attendance and what the subject of their internal emails were.
“They should have been worried about the numbers, not who we were meeting with,” he added. “It was flat-out dirty politics.”
Despite all of this, Steven Miller claims that the IRS’s targeting of conservatives was “absolutely not illegal.” He won’t tell us whether it was “unethical,” “appalling,” “unprofessional” or whether it “smacked of police state tactics,” however. And I guess we’re not supposed to worry about the legal/ethical issues raised by this bit of news:
NBC’s Lisa Myers reported this morning that the IRS deliberately chose not to reveal that it had wrongly targeted conservative groups until after the 2012 presidential election …
The IRS commissioner “has known for at least a year that this was going on,” said Myers, “and that this had happened. And did he share any of that information with the White House? But even more importantly, Congress is going to ask him, why did you mislead us for an entire year? …
The Internal Revenue Service’s watchdog told top Treasury officials around June 2012 he was investigating allegations the tax agency had targeted conservative groups, for the first time indicating that Obama administration officials were aware of the explosive matter in the midst of the president’s re-election campaign.
The disclosure to the Treasury general counsel and the deputy secretary was a cursory one, according to J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. He said he didn’t reveal conclusions of the probe, which was in its early stages, and his disclosure came as part of a routine update to Treasury leaders. At the time, Republican lawmakers were complaining publicly about alleged IRS targeting of tea-party groups.
The revelation nonetheless raised a fresh set of questions about who was aware of the problem within the Obama administration. It was one of several new details that emerged during a contentious four-hour House committee hearing Friday, held one week after an IRS official revealed at a legal conference that the agency had taken “absolutely inappropriate” actions in targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for often heavy-handed scrutiny.
Among other disclosures: The conference revelation was itself stage-managed. Ousted IRS acting Commissioner Steven Miller testified he planned it with the director of the division in question. Republican lawmakers expressed amazement that IRS officials didn’t tell them first.
The hearing left numerous other fundamental questions unanswered, however, including who ordered the targeting and why it continued so long, pointing to a protracted investigation ahead. Mr. Miller conceded the agency likely disciplined the wrong employee in one effort to address the problem. Another was reassigned in the agency’s Cincinnati office, but he couldn’t provide the employee’s name.
And we are supposed to believe that there is nothing criminal about any of this? I trust at least that we won’t have to have a prolonged debate about how incredibly unethical and dirty all of this is.
Here is more on the “stage-managed” disclosure:
Last week, Lois Lerner, head of the tax exempt division of the Internal Revenue Service dropped a bombshell: The IRS had been applying extra scrutiny to conservative groups claiming tax exempt status.
The revelation came seemingly out of the blue, in response to a question during a panel at an American Bar Association conference, leaving the audience baffled, according to reports.
As it turns out, it was not a spontaneous revelation. The question, said outgoing IRS Commissioner Steven Miller in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday, was planted, as part of a prepared strategy for the IRS to release this information to the public.
Under questioning from Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, Miller said it was a “prepared Q and A,” and the question, which came from tax lawyer Celia Roady had been discussed in advance as well.
Roady told U.S. News and World Report later Friday afternoon that Lerner had personally contacted her and requested she ask the specific question. Roady said she did not know at the time what Lerner’s answer would be.
Why on Earth didn’t Lerner or Miller simply announce the information? Why didn’t they tell anyone in Congress? And why did they hide the information during election season? Isn’t this the kind of news that voters ought to know about before they go to the polls?
Again, am I supposed to believe that nothing illegal or unethical went on around here? Because I’m having trouble doing so.
I don’t know if Orwell could have dreamed this up:
During a House Ways and Means Committee hearing today, Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., grilled outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller about the IRS targeting a pro-life group in Iowa.
“Their question, specifically asked from the IRS to the Coalition for Life of Iowa: ‘Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers,’” Schock declared.
“Would that be an inappropriate question to a 501 c3 applicant?” asked Schock. “The content of one’s prayers?”
“It pains me to say I can’t speak to that one either,” Miller replied.
After Schock pressed him further, Miller explained that although he couldn’t comment on the specific case, it would “surprise him” if that question was asked.
I presume that someone will have the nerve to tell us that this doesn’t constitute a blow against freedom of religion.
If you are looking for some kind of reassurance that the people responsible for this scandal are being punished, well, don’t read this story:
The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.
Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also reacted to the revelation late Thursday, stating the news was “stunning, just stunning.”
And there are probably more stunning revelations to come. Like, you know, this:
Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS executive in charge of the tax exempt division in 2010 when it began targeting conservative Tea Party, evangelical and pro-Israel groups for harassment, got more than $100,000 in bonuses between 2009 and 2012.
More recently, Ingram was promoted to serve as director of the tax agency’s Obamacare program office, a position that put her in charge of the vast expansion of the IRS’ regulatory power and staffing in connection with federal health care, ABC reported earlier today.
Ingram received a $7,000 bonus in 2009, according to data obtained by The Washington Examiner from the IRS, then a $34,440 bonus in 2010, $35,400 in 2011 and $26,550 last year, for a total of $103,390. Her annual salary went from $172,500 to $177,000 during the same period.
The 2010, 2011 and 2012 bonuses were awarded during the period when IRS harassment of the conservative groups was most intense. The newspaper obtained the data via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Only government would respond to incredibly unethical—and possibly illegal—behavior by giving those responsible for the unethical/illegal behavior bonuses. Oh, and when the IRS is not engaging in illegal/unethical behavior, it is acting like the Keystone Kops:
In March 2012, the Human Rights Campaign and The Huffington Post made public confidential tax documents from the National Organization for Marriage. The Human Rights Campaign said it obtained the documents from a “whistle-blower” who mailed them to the gay rights group’s Washington headquarters.
In a similar incident, ProPublica, an investigative journalism Web site, asked the I.R.S.’s Cincinnati office for the applications of 67 nonprofits, both liberal and conservative. When the I.R.S. responded, it inadvertently included applications for nine conservative groups that had not yet been granted tax-exempt status, a violation of confidentiality law.
When ProPublica realized what it had — including the application from Crossroads GPS, the conservative group founded by Karl Rove and other Republican strategists — it alerted the I.R.S., which warned the journalists that “publishing unauthorized returns or return information was a felony” punishable by up to five years in prison. ProPublica ProPublica redacted certain details and published the documents anyway.
Representative Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, hit on a different explanation. “On the one hand, you’re arguing today that the I.R.S. is not corrupt, but the subtext of that is you’re saying, ‘Look, we’re just incompetent,’ ” Mr. Roskam said. “It is a perilous pathway to go down.”
Is there anyone out there who is still willing to claim that there is no scandal here? And if so, what are those people smoking?