May 16th, 2013
pejmanyousefzadeh

The IRS Scandal Gets Worse and Worse

I have a lot to write about.

I’ll start with the fact that the president has asked for the resignation of Steven Miller, the acting director of the IRS. There was a lot of tough talk from the president about how the IRS’s actions were supposedly inexcusable and intolerable, but note that the IRS makes it very difficult to actually bring it to account for any abuses it engages in:

The IRS has usually done an excellent job of stifling investigations of its practices. A 1991 survey of 800 IRS executives and managers by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics revealed that three out of four respondents felt entitled to deceive or lie when testifying before a congressional committee.

The agency also has a long history of seeking to intimidate congressional critics: In 1925, Internal Revenue Commissioner David Blair personally delivered a demand for $10 million in back taxes to Michigan’s Republican Sen. James Couzens—who had launched an investigation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue—as he stepped out of the Senate chamber. More recently, after Sen. Joe Montoya of New Mexico announced plans in 1972 to hold hearings on IRS abuses, the agency added his name to a list of tax protesters who were capable of violence against IRS agents.

Meanwhile, for anyone who is still under the ridiculous impression that the IRS didn’t engage in any abuses when it came to its treatment of tea party groups …

The Internal Revenue Service asked tea party groups to see donor rolls.

It asked for printouts of Facebook posts.

And it asked what books people were reading.

I don’t envy anyone who is tasked with trying to defend this behavior, although some port-side commentators are still desperately trying to do so because in this case, the IRS targeted people they don’t like.

I’m going to link to an excerpt a bunch of material courtesy of Jim Geraghty’s excellent Morning Jolt below. Excerpt one:

At the time when tea party groups were targeted, Miller was a deputy commissioner who oversaw the division that dealt with tax-exempt organizations.

The report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration does not indicate that Miller knew conservative groups were being targeted until after the practice ended. But documents show that Miller repeatedly failed to tell Congress that tea party groups were being targeted, even after he had been briefed on the matter.

Excerpt two:

The director of the Internal Revenue Service division under fire for singling out conservative groups sent a 2012 letter under her name to one such group, POLITICO has learned.

The March 2012 letter was sent to the Ohio-based American Patriots Against Government Excess (American PAGE) under the name of Lois Lerner, the director of the Exempt Organizations Division.

As Geraghty points out, this shows that “low-level employees” weren’t the ones primarily responsible for this scandal. Excerpt three:

In February 2010, the Champaign Tea Party in Illinois received approval of its tax-exempt status from the IRS in 90 days, no questions asked.

That was the month before the Internal Revenue Service started singling out Tea Party groups for special treatment. There wouldn’t be another Tea Party application approved for 27 months.

In that time, the IRS approved perhaps dozens of applications from similar liberal and progressive groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows.

As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like “Progress” or “Progressive,” the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups. They included:

  • Bus for Progress, a New Jersey non-profit that uses a red, white and blue bus to “drive the progressive change.” According to its website, its mission includes “support (for) progressive politicians with the courage to serve the people’s interests and make tough choices.” It got an IRS approval as a social welfare group in April 2011.
  • Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment says it fights against corporate welfare and for increasing the minimum wage. “It would be fair to say we’re on the progressive end of the spectrum,” said executive director Jeff Ordower. He said the group got tax-exempt status in September 2011 in just nine months after “a pretty simple, straightforward process.”
  • Progress Florida, granted tax-exempt status in January 2011, is lobbying the Florida Legislature to expand Medicaid under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, one of President Obama’s signature accomplishments. The group did not return phone calls. “We’re busy fighting to build a more progressive Florida and cannot take your call right now,” the group’s voice mail said.

Like the Tea Party groups, the liberal groups sought recognition as social welfare groups under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, based on activities like “citizen participation” or “voter education and registration.”

And finally, excerpt four from Geraghty:

Eight months passed without word from the agency about the group’s application, Ryun said. In February 2012, Ryun’s attorney contacted the IRS to ask if it needed more information to secure its non-profit status as a 501(c)3 organization. According to Ryun, the IRS told him that the application was being processed by the agency’s office in Cincinnati, Ohio—the same one currently facing scrutiny for targeting conservative groups—and to check back in two months.

As directed, Ryun followed up with the IRS in April 2012, and was told that Media Trackers’ application was still under review.

When September 2012 arrived with still no word from the IRS, Ryun determined that Media Trackers would likely never obtain standalone non-profit status, and he tried a new approach: Starting over. He applied for permanent non-profit status for a separate group called Greenhouse Solutions, a pre-existing organization that was reaching the end of its determination period.

The IRS approved Greenhouse Solutions’ request for non-profit status in three weeks.

Tell me again how this is not a scandal.

As expected, the White House continues to blame everyone but itself for the scandal. The newest scapegoat is the Treasury department. Because God forbid that the White House itself start taking some responsibility for how unbelievably awful this scandal has gotten. Dana Milbank is one of the worst columnists around, but unlike the Obama administration, at least Milbank has eaten his Wheaties:

… Nixon was a control freak. Obama seems to be the opposite: He wants no control over the actions of his administration. As the president distances himself from the actions of “independent” figures within his administration, he’s creating a power vacuum in which lower officials behave as though anything goes. Certainly, a president can’t know what everybody in his administration is up to — but he can take responsibility, he can fire people and he can call a stop to foolish actions such as wholesale snooping into reporters’ phone calls.

Mitt Romney had his faults as a presidential candidate. But anything would be better than having a pretend president right about now.

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