Whoever it was in the IRS who came up with the idea of looking deeply into Tea Party groups probably thought they were doing the right thing. After all, once Citizens United came down from the Supreme Court, political action groups — both liberal and conservative and under any number of names and disguises — were going to pop up like mushrooms. And they did. But going after just the right-wingers — where there were bound to be more groups — was dumb, if only from a political-fallout perspective. After all, everybody knows that no one screams louder and carries on like a banshee than bullies who get hit back.
Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post has a good summation on the story so far and points out that when it came to light that investigators were looking only in the Tea Party groups, they were told to stop. They then broadened the scope to look at any group that might fall under the “political action” umbrella from both the left and the right.
On June 29, 2011, according to the documents, IRS staffers held a briefing with Lerner in which they described giving special attention to instances where “statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.” She raised an objection, and the agency adopted a more general set of standards. Lerner, who is a Democrat, is not a political appointee.
But six months later, the IRS applied a new political test to social welfare groups, the document says. On Jan. 15, 2012, the agency decided to look at “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement,” according to the appendix in the IG’s report.
The agency did not appear to adopt a more neutral test for 501(c)(4) groups until May 17, 2012, according to the timeline in the report. At that point, the IRS again updated its criteria to focus on “organizations with indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention (raising questions as to exempt purpose and/or excess private benefit.)”
That seems to sound like the agency was looking at any group that might be using the tax code to skirt the limits of the 501 (c) (4) rules, or just trying to separate gullible voters from their money under the disguise of a political action group when actually all they were doing was adding on to the villa in Antigua via an account in the Caymans. And that, like it or not, is the job of the IRS.
From a political point of view, this is gold for the Republicans who have been pining for something to pin on the Obama administration. Yippee! They will bloom with outrage and horror at the idea of the jackbooted IRS coming after the teabaggers, conveniently forgetting that when they were in power, they had no qualms using the power of the audit to go after liberal groups or churches that dared to advocate against the war. Here’s what happened to those thugs.
It is important to note that when the higher-ups in the IRS learned of the probes into the Tea Party groups, they were told to stop. They did. There was no attempt to cover it up, to shred the evidence, or out a secret source. It was a mistake, a lapse of judgment, and they fixed it. That is not a scandal.
But try telling that to the Very Serious Villagers on Morning Joe and Fox News. Let the countdown to impeachment begin.