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May 11, 2013 8:22 PM   Subscribe

On Friday afternoon, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) apologized to conservative non-profit 501(c)4 groups for singling them out for heightened scrutiny during the 2012 campaign season. While the abuses were initially blamed on "low-level" workers in the agency's Cincinnati office, new questions were raised Saturday with a report that senior IRS officials were aware of the practice as early as 2011. That senior IRS officials knew of the politically-selective practices "seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner." posted by BobbyVan (366 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Huh. Outrage.
posted by slater at 8:35 PM on May 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


So far, and these often change as new info comes out, this looks like a pretty serious scandal at the IRS. It should be investigated so whoever is to blame is taken to account.

However, I fear that this is going to be like Fast and Furious and Benghazi where Republicans abandon a quest to figure out what went wrong to launch a quest to figure out how they can try to directly blame Obama or someone close to him. That leads to Democrats abandoning the quest to find the truth to play defense. It's a whole big mess and it makes it hard to trust the government is capable of policing itself.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:36 PM on May 11, 2013 [48 favorites]


Nothing against the OP, but I'm so tired of issues being framed this way. Of course, "Conservative groups have reacted with outrage." Are there really no liberals who are concerned about the implications of this? Are we so dug in to the foxholes of partisanship that nobody can look up and see that this kind of thing would be just as bad if it were aimed at liberal groups?

"LOL Conservatives" is fine as far as it goes (not that that's what the OP is playing at) but doesn't anyone on the other side of the fence feel a bit of a chill in the air from this?
posted by Infinity_8 at 8:36 PM on May 11, 2013 [25 favorites]


I can't find any news of it, I could have sworn that at least one conservative group was busted by news agencies for not really conforming to the 501(c)4 designation.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:37 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The tea party usually condones racial profiling.
posted by Brian B. at 8:37 PM on May 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Good going, IRS, giving them more fuel to feed their paranoid little rat-brains.
posted by item at 8:37 PM on May 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Some people at the IRS are presumably calling around for defense attorneys this weekend.
posted by Jahaza at 8:39 PM on May 11, 2013


It's too early for outrage, but we should definitely be asking questions:

How many other heightened scrutiny filters did they use?

Have they used such filters for other groups in the past?

What effect did this screening have on the effected parties? We're they harmed?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:41 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


This will be a really good test for Maddow and Stewart to see if they condemn this. And I'm a bit bummed by the fact that when I tried to think of "Liberal Groups" who should be condemning this, those were the first two names I came up with.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:44 PM on May 11, 2013


It's too early for outrage, but we should definitely be asking questions:

How is it too early for outrage? The IRS has admitted that certain employees targeted groups for scrutiny based on their politics. That's why they apologized for doing it.

What effect did this screening have on the effected parties? We're they harmed?

Of course they were harmed. They were subjected to federal tax scrutiny because of their politics. Their time was wasted.
posted by Jahaza at 8:44 PM on May 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


While also reading your email unapologetically.
posted by Kale Slayer at 8:45 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


That the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias.

I'm trying to think of reasons for this practice that aren't motivated by political bias. Like, is there some high-level correlation between liking the word 'patriot' and falsifying tax records, or something? That statement makes no sense.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:46 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]




Groups applying for that particular tax treatment need to avoid partisan activity. By its very definition, targeting them for heightened scrutiny can't be partisan, because that implies that the groups they're targeting are partisan, and they're not allowed to be partisan without losing their tax status!
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:48 PM on May 11, 2013 [43 favorites]


As someone who voted for Obama, twice, I think we're at the point where we need to ask how his administration is set up to provide adequate oversight. The buck stops at the desk in the oval office.

The emphasis seems to be on quashing leaks, rather than making damn sure there's nothing to leak. It's OK to be a "big picture" guy, but you absolutely need "small detail" people on staff. I don't think he has enough of them.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:52 PM on May 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Groups applying for that particular tax treatment need to avoid partisan activity. By its very definition, targeting them for heightened scrutiny can't be partisan, because that implies that the groups they're targeting are partisan, and they're not allowed to be partisan without losing their tax status!

No, this isn't how it works. 501(c)(4)s can engage in partisan activity.
posted by Jahaza at 8:56 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the IRS' defense the Tea Party ideology is very anti-tax and full of people who seem to spend a lot of their time comming up with schemes to evade paying taxes.
posted by humanfont at 8:57 PM on May 11, 2013 [45 favorites]


This will be a really good test for Maddow and Stewart to see if they condemn this.

Maddow is on a network that's more-or-less presented as the liberal version of Fox News, so there's no need to test for anything.

Jon Stewart is a comedian first and foremost; he'll probably mention it because it's something big in the news, but that depends on whether their writers can find good enough joeks to fill Act 1 with it. If they do mention it, if there's something to mock and is reasonably worthy of such, they'll probably be right on it.
posted by JHarris at 8:58 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]




501(c)(4)s can engage in partisan activity.

No they can't. That's why they're getting the tax exemption.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:58 PM on May 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


To me, if I were the taxman, and I had a bunch of groups that basically claimed it was a moral imperative to pay as little taxes as possible, I know which groups I'd single out for special examination...
posted by Scattercat at 8:59 PM on May 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


This will be a really good test for Maddow and Stewart to see if they condemn this.

Maddow is on a network that's more-or-less presented as the liberal version of Fox News, so there's no need to test for anything.


Maddow already mentioned it for the past two day's worth of shows.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:59 PM on May 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


It's a categorical mistake to think the fundamental problem with abusive government is who is in power, rather than the existence of the power itself.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:01 PM on May 11, 2013 [18 favorites]


Previously.
posted by homunculus at 9:01 PM on May 11, 2013


No they can't. That's why they're getting the tax exemption.

I'm sorry, but you're just wrong.

"An exempt IRC 501(c)(4) organization may intervene in political campaigns as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare. "

They can do all kinds of other non-exempt activities too.
posted by Jahaza at 9:02 PM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


The agency response to this incident tells me that there's some really poor management going on. That's probably all. That, and some very complex tax regulations that maybe we can't effectively police without running afoul of some GAO rules.

Either way, it's bad. The IRS is going to outlive any President's term. It needs to be fixed more than toothless Tea Party organizations need to be disarmed.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:04 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


"An exempt IRC 501(c)(4) organization may intervene in political campaigns as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare. "

Tough to see where the "primary" purpose of social welfare comes from with most of these groups. What social welfare is American Crossroads GPS promoting, where "social welfare" has any definition other than "electing Republicans"?
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:05 PM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


You literally pulled that quote out of context. Here's the rest of the context:
The promotion of social welfare does not include participation in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any political candidate. Reg. 1.501(c)(4)–1(a)(2)(ii). An exempt IRC 501(c)(4) organization may intervene in political campaigns as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare. IRC 501(c)(4) organizations are subject to the tax imposed by IRC 527 on any expenditure for a political activity that comes within the meaning of IRC 527(e)(2). See Rev. Rul. 81–95, 1981–1 C.B. 332.
If you look at my link, you'll see that the kinds of allowed interventions are things like "ethics" and "civility" interventions that are scrupulously nonpartisan.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:06 PM on May 11, 2013 [26 favorites]


It's obvious that tea party organizations are anti-tax, so it's a fight worth having in the court of public opinion. I would guess that the tea party stumbled into this by accident and can't resist making the IRS look competent by trying to argue otherwise.
posted by Brian B. at 9:08 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In next week's scandal, the DEA admits they targeted for increased scrutiny groups that publish guides for growing pot without being caught by the police and manifestos asserting their moral right to do so.

Seriously, doesn't it seem possible that what these groups are calling "politically motivated" is just proper scrutiny of people who proclaim loudly their intent to cheat on their taxes as much as they can get away with it? The fact that the IRS backpedaled and apologized might just mean they're spineless rather than actually guilty.
posted by straight at 9:09 PM on May 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


If you look at my link

Your other link shows how wrong you are:

Reg.  1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii) says that a social welfare organization may
qualify for exemption under IRC 501(c)(4) even though it is an "action
organization" described Reg.  1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3)(ii) (substantial lobbying
activities) or (iv) (main or primary objective can only be attained by legislation
and advocacy to attain objective), if it otherwise qualifies for exemption.


The "Tea Party" lower tax etc. has a political agenda. Having a political agenda is allowed so long as you don't only have a partisan agenda.
posted by Jahaza at 9:09 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have trouble wrapping my head around the concept that any conservative political organization can be anything but a profit-making enterprise...
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:09 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you're arguing about Citizens United v FeC, so it doesn't matter what the IRS guidelines are, because they won't be enforced.
posted by tripping daisy at 9:10 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you look at my link, you'll see that the kinds of allowed interventions are things like "ethics" and "civility" interventions that are scrupulously nonpartisan.

One of the examples given is antibortion "action" organizations. Surely on Metafilter we'll be able to agree that that agenda is not "scrupulously nonpartisan."
posted by Jahaza at 9:10 PM on May 11, 2013


I really haven't seen Tea Party groups focus that much on promoting tax evasion. They are political groups that argue for tax cuts and smaller government and seem to be generally law abiding.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:12 PM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Or rather scrupulously nonpolitical, it is in fact "nonpartisan" in the legal sense so long as it doesn't advocate for particular candidates.
posted by Jahaza at 9:13 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Ha ha, look at the cops beating the shit out of those stinky Occupy hippies! That's hilarious! Wait a minute... WHAT'S THIS? I'M OUTRAGED! HOW DARE THEY TARGET A POLITICAL GROUP!"
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:19 PM on May 11, 2013 [48 favorites]


Or rather scrupulously nonpolitical, it is in fact "nonpartisan" in the legal sense so long as it doesn't advocate for particular candidates.

I think you just made my point. Is the IRS targeting Obama's partisan rivals? Only if the Tea Party is advocating for political candidates. IF the Tea Party groups were actively opposing Obama (as they seemed to do when I saw them marching here in DC) then they should not have qualified for 501c4 status.

In 1995, when the IRS advisory about abortion 501c4s was written, there were plenty of pro-life Democrats. Is abortion partisan now? Sure. But abortion didn't move, the parties did.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:19 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure you are mistaken, anotherpanacea. 501(c)(4)'s may engage in partisan political activities such as campaigning for a candidate as long as that activity "is insubstantial in relation to its other activities."

You and Jahaza have been going back and forth on documents from the IRS.gov domain. Here's something from Thompson & Thompson, a law firm whose site has Google's first non-Internet-canonical (did I actually just write that?) link for the non-quoted query "can a 501(c)(4) participate in politics".
1. A §501(c)(4) organization may participate in lawful political campaign activities involving the nomination or election of public officials without adversely affecting its exempt status, provided such activities are insubstantial in relation to its overall activities:
a. Campaign activity includes participation or intervention in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office. A candidate is any contestant for elective office.

b. Political campaign activities relate to individual candidates, whereas lobbying activities relate to social issues and laws.

c. Participation in a campaign includes publishing or distributing statements made either by a candidate or by someone else directed at a candidate.
[edits: added comma before salutation and link to user comment]
posted by mistersquid at 9:21 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


So if I understand this correctly, the dispute is about how partisan an organization can be while retaining the "promoting social welfare while refraining from being overtly partisan" tax-exemption? And the controversy is that there's a partisan bias towards which 501(c)4 organizations are being selected for extra scrutiny for being overly partisan? Do I have that right?

The word partisan is losing all meaning
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:21 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This will be a really good test for Maddow and Stewart to see if they condemn this.

Rachel Maddow has always been more than scrupulous about calling out the shit on the Democratic side, when there's actually anything to it. What show have you been watching?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:22 PM on May 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


Jahaza, I'm really having trouble thinking of any other purpose/function for tea party groups other than partisan politics. It's possible this is because I'm not sufficiently familiar with the breadth of their operations and maybe they also run soup kitchens, stop smoking clinics, women's shelters, etc, but honestly, I'm skeptical. Can you give an example of a hypothetical but likely activity that would qualify an applying Tea Party organization as not solely partisan?
posted by weston at 9:28 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


BFD. When hundreds of groups with nearly identical names all start applying for tax-exempt status at the same time I'd say it raises flags. besides, it's not like they didn't all get approved. They just got asked to prove they were legit.

This is hardly racial profiling here. It's asking groups to prove their legitimacy for tax-exempt status. Not exactly a human rights violation.
posted by GuyZero at 9:41 PM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


From what I've seen. the various Tea Party groups are "non-partisan" in the exact same way that my ex-brother-in-law is an "independent." They both end up supporting Republicans 100% of the time, but have Reasons for not wanting to self-identify with the Republican Party.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 9:42 PM on May 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


mistersquid, that block of text says the same things as the other blocks of text. I think you're missing what kinds of activity would count as "insubstantial" and what the required possible central missions of 501c4s are. The Tea Parties engaged in substantial lobbying activitie, not insubstantial lobbying activities.

The Tea Parties could have gone the Crossroads GPS route, carefully screening their research activities from any active partisanship that was performed by separate non-tax-exempt organizations. But the thing is, Crossroads GPS was scrupulously nonpartisan. The emphasis is on the scruples: they did everything they could to preserve their status while still advancing the overall Republican goals. And that doesn't turn out to be much, and it takes a lot of lawyers and a lot of care to firewall those activities.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:46 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, I'm certainly expecting Maddow to deliver, and most likely Stewart too. Like you say, she's very scrupulous.

I mean that it's going to be kind of galling, because idiots are going to be saying this requires impeachment by the end of Monday. (My bet's on Inhofe being the first congressman, with a backing bet on Steve King.) There was worse shit under Bush, but this is just bad and it needs to be mucked out, and it's going to all take place in a context of vicious partisan sniping.

Doing government or reporting properly is hard when there will be people criticizing you who don't really care about it being done properly.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:50 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it slightly ridiculous that the IRS is getting shit for deliberately giving additional scrutiny to organizations tied to the tax protest movement while turning a blind eye to the ones saying taxation is necessary for a functioning society and current rates are inadequate.

'Cause, like, well, um, duh?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:50 PM on May 11, 2013 [26 favorites]


"Ha ha, look at the cops beating the shit out of those stinky Occupy hippies! That's hilarious! Wait a minute... WHAT'S THIS? I'M OUTRAGED! HOW DARE THEY TARGET A POLITICAL GROUP!"

So what we should learn from this is to shower and use deodorant.
posted by humanfont at 9:51 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This will be a really good test for Maddow and Stewart to see if they condemn this.

Fox News has been loudly championing the Tea Party while disparaging Occupy since day one. Do they ever get held to the same standard?

...Of course not.
posted by homunculus at 9:51 PM on May 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


There was worse shit under Bush, but this is just bad and it needs to be mucked out,

The most directly comparable thing I can think of was purging the Justice Department of the ideologically impure and replacing them with partisan hacks with bible college degrees. You may or may not agree with me that that was shitloads worse than this, but what's remarkable is that it's so tiny in relation to other Bush-era misdeeds that it's almost been lost in the noise.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:59 PM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Oh, I'm certainly expecting Maddow to deliver, Like you say, she's very scrupulous.

Is this how she is commonly seen? Because every time I listen to her I feel like she is just the Bizarro world Rush Limbaugh.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:11 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Weston, can you give me examples of hypothetical but likely activities that qualify Moveon.org, Media Matters, or the Center for American Progress as not solely partisan? Because all of those groups have (c)(4) organizations, and none of them run soup kitchens or women's shelters. Because that's not the test. A 501(c)(4) group is allowed to be partisan. It's allowed to have a point of view, and to engage in research, education, and publicity to promote that point of view, even where that point of view is about what laws we should have and how those laws should be interpreted.

Defenders of Wildlife has a strong 501(c)(4) arm; it's mission statement says that, "Through grassroots lobbying, issue advocacy and political campaigns, the Action Fund champions those laws and lawmakers that protect wildlife and wild places while working against those that do them harm." The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is a 501(c)(4) organization that "works to pass, enforce, and protect sensible laws and public policy that address gun violence at the federal and state level." The ACLU Foundation--which is the organization you're a member of if you're a "card-carrying member of the ACLU," since the ACLU (c)(3) is not a membership organization--uses your donation money to "fund our legislative lobbying--important work that cannot be supported by tax-deductible funds." So far as I know, the staff and boards of those organization have not been asked, under penalty of perjury, to turn over their membership lists to the IRS and to swear that the spouses of their board members will never run for political office.

The fact that the targeted groups have a position on a particular issue, and the fact that the politicians who agree with them on that issue tend to come primarily from one of the two major political parties is not dispositive. (Though I'd point out that a lot of Tea Party groups have supported libertarian challengers to Republican candidates who didn't support the Tea Party position on issues that were important to them, just as many lefty (c)(4) groups have supported independents against blue dog Democrats.) Or, if the IRS believes that this sort of activity does make a group less likely to qualify for tax exemption, I'd argue that they should be equally interested in investigating groups with the word "Progressive" or "Progress" in their names.

This should be an issue about which all Americans should be concerned. The IRS, an arm of the federal government that has the power to compel people to provide personal information about their activities and to throw people in jail, has targeted particular groups for that sort of scrutiny based on their members' political beliefs. I think that a lot of Tea Party positions are abhorrent, and a lot of their members are assholes, but that doesn't mean that I think it's okay to bring the full force of the government down on them because their political views differ from mine. I'm against this for the same reason that I'm against the creeping power of the TSA and against using SWAT teams to enforce misdemeanor warrants and against throwing people in jail without the right to counsel when they can't pay their debts. It's just not okay to violate people's rights, including their right to be treated fairly and equally under the law when they peaceably assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievances.
posted by decathecting at 10:13 PM on May 11, 2013 [33 favorites]


The IRS can be siced on you by any other part of the fed gov that feels the need... Some years back, the Fireworks Foundation and Pyrotechnics Guild had an IRS audit foisted upon them by the consumer products safety commission when they had the gall to lobby against the CPSC trying to cut off all sales of pyrotechnic chemicals.

Thoughts on CPSC VS PGI, FF & FireFox
posted by bert2368 at 10:15 PM on May 11, 2013


This seems like a very nebulous distinction. Leaving aside out and out cronyism or self-interest, the whole point of lobbying or supporting a candidate is to promote a general social agenda of some type. One can therefore see the intent, I think: a genuine 501c(4) is an organization that wishes to promote, say, environmental conservation, or relaxed gun control laws, or reproductive rights, or whatever, and, among many activities undertaken to promote those agendas, they participate in political campaigns in order to see that a candidate is elected whom they believe will advance their goals, or engage in lobbying to advance those goals (social agendas often being advanced by legislative or political means). The problem is when people choose their social agendas according to the agendas of their favoured political affiliations (usually via tribal -- partisan -- affiliation). In such an environment, it starts to seem like the notion of an organization using electoral politics as one of many means to a larger end becomes a hard thing to enshrine in law.

There are plenty of examples of organizations that operate according to what seems to be the spirit of the designation; a 501c(3) for which I used to volunteer changed its designation to 501c(4) specifically so that it could campaign on behalf of a specific local politician who espoused specific policies the organization thought would alleviate the very specific local problems that it was the organization's mission to alleviate. I've also donated to 501c(4)s that don't involve themselves with electoral politics at all, but which have clear political principles, although no partisan affiliation (at minimum because no major party endorses their views).

However, it looks like politics has evolved in such a way that the spirit of the 501c(4) designation doesn't reflect a growing chunk of reality: many social and political issues are treated as markers of (partisan) group affiliation, rather than as questions to be engaged with on their own merits. In such an environment, it is hard to tell if political activity is being carried out in support of the stated goals, or in order to help somebody accumulate power.

It seems like a very difficult distinction to enforce, so it's not clear to me that nefarious political harassment occurred; it seems more likely to be a case of a perhaps-impossible job being done not very well.

(Actually, what I think is the spirit of the designation might select against "conservative" groups, since their lobbying tends to be more likely to be obviously in someone's self-interest, rather than in the interest of social welfare. Leaving aside the fact that one exists to promote the interests of specific corporations and one probably doesn't, is there a distinction between, say, the ACLU Foundation and the NRA that makes the former more obviously a "social welfare" organization? On the face of it, maybe no: both claim to promote social welfare by standing up for folks' constitutional rights and educating people about how to exercise them. One more or less tows its stated line, and one is obviously a lobby group for arms dealers. A priori (pretend you're in charge of rooting out fake charities, here), is one more worthy of investigative time than the other? I kind of think maybe, although this example is highly hypothetical*, and that this hurf durf outrage incident is actually just an example of an attempt at intelligent investigative-resource allocation in the face of a tricky, nebulous law-enforcement problem. I hate the Tea Party, but I'll put on my "fuck tha police" hat if it turns out unambiguously to be otherwise.)

*The ACLU Foundation is a 501c(4), I know, because I am a member, but is the NRA?
posted by kengraham at 10:17 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this how she is commonly seen? Because every time I listen to her I feel like she is just the Bizarro world Rush Limbaugh.

She just doesn't play the bullshit false equivalence game that most of the middle-of-the-road press does. If she's an order of magnitude harder on the republicans it's because they really are an order of magnitude worse.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:19 PM on May 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


Oh, and for those of you who think they're being targeted because many of their members advocate cutting taxes, would you reconsider that view if it turns out to be true that the IRS was also engaged in specific targeting of Jewish and pro-Israel groups? Several such groups are alleging (and have alleged since 2010), that the IRS required each group to answer questions about "whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel," and also demanded the organization "[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel." There is, as far as I know, no reason to believe that groups promoting increased support for Israel, or Jewish groups more generally, have some specific position on taxation (at least not unless you subscribe to some incredibly bigoted stereotypes about "greed," or something equally bizarre and despicable). If those groups have been targeted, would you agree that that's inappropriate?

No one at the IRS has said anything about targeting Tea Party groups because those groups' view that government spending should be reduced or that taxes should be lowered made the IRS suspect that those groups were more likely to engage in tax evasion under (c)(4) protection. There is no statement from any IRS spokesperson or employee to suggest that the IRS had such evidence, or were relying on a suspicion about those views in deciding who to investigate. If they do have evidence to suggest that Tea Party groups were more likely to cheat on their taxes than other (c)(4) groups, they should say so instead of admitting that they were totally wrong to scrutinize such groups disproportionately.
posted by decathecting at 10:23 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this how she is commonly seen? Because every time I listen to her I feel like she is just the Bizarro world Rush Limbaugh.

Ed Schultz, sure, but Maddow? You're not listening very closely.
posted by homunculus at 10:27 PM on May 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'll be interesting to see if Obama's line is to throw a mid-level IRS director or two to the wolves* -- which may actually be just, we'll see what comes out -- deplore them and clean house; or take a Harry Truman 'buck stops here' stand. The latter would be the really honorable approach but it wouldn't be respected -- it'd just be raw meat.

* Remember 'Scooter' Libby, took the fall for Plamegate and got his sentence commuted by Bush? It was like Iran Contra all over again.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:29 PM on May 11, 2013


If they do have evidence to suggest that Tea Party groups were more likely to cheat on their taxes than other (c)(4) groups, they should say so instead of admitting that they were totally wrong to scrutinize such groups disproportionately.

No, the position they're in is not going to be made better by pointing to reasons or claiming that some Tea Party groups seemed disproportionately dodgy, in terms of PR, it's grovelling time. Grovelling doesn't work if you don't accept responsibility.
posted by anonymisc at 10:29 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Remember when Congress destroyed ACORN? Based on complete lies from beginning to end? When do we get an apology for that?

Now look at this case. A large number of groups, all offshoots of a group that endlessly talks about not paying taxes, all with similar names, all apply for tax-free status at around the same time. The IRS gives them extra scrutiny - and now they're apologizing?

> Oh, and for those of you who think they're being targeted because many of their members advocate cutting taxes, would you reconsider that view if it turns out to be true that the IRS was also engaged in specific targeting of Jewish and pro-Israel groups?

That article is... not convincing. Note the complete absence of anyone who is willing to be quoted by name, and a lack of any details whatsoever.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:32 PM on May 11, 2013 [23 favorites]


From the Sierra Club site:

"Contributions, gifts, and dues to the Sierra Club are not tax deductible. They support our effective, citizen-based advocacy and lobbying efforts."

My takeaway is that groups actively involved with lobbying for or against legislation are not allowed to be 501(c)4s. And the other takeaway is that the Sierra Club is uncommonly honest and above board.
posted by mrhappy at 10:56 PM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy, the question I asked was whether you would change your view if it turns out that those allegations were true. At least one pro-Israel group has been alleging that it was targeted and asked inappropriate questions, and that such treatment violated their First Amendment rights, since 2010. Their lawsuit against the IRS, which was filed in federal court two and a half years ago, was linked in that article, and the attorneys who filed it had to swear to the court that they had a factual basis for making those claims. If you want to view the filed documents, along with government replies, you can probably find them on PACER.

kengraham, I'm not really sure what to do about an argument of the form "people who agree with me are working to 'promote social welfare,' while people who disagree with me are 'obviously' corporate shills." I'll just say that I disagree. I don't much like the NRA, but it's pretty clear to me that they are "standing up for folks' constitutional rights and educating people about how to exercise them." They have a genuinely-held point of view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, just as the ACLU has a genuinely-held point of view that the First Amendment protects an individual right to have one's children's teachers refrain from praying in front of the students in a public school classroom. Oh, and if Wikipedia is correct, the NRA has received less than $15 million in funding from firearms-related firms in the last eight years, out of a total of what appears to be more than a billion dollars in income over that period of time. Again, I think that the NRA is wrong about a lot of things, but that doesn't mean that they are not just like a lot of groups I do support: large collections of individuals with genuinely-held shared belief who want to support that belief politically.
posted by decathecting at 10:58 PM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm disturbed by many of the reactions here. I dislike conservative politics as much as anyone, but it feels like certain peoples' first reaction is to try and justify the IRS potentially doing something illegal and immoral with their power just because the target is someone we progressives dislike.

It's like hearing that the police may have squashed someone's freedom of speech and saying, "To be fair, that guy was saying some pretty bigoted stuff." Or, "Well, we all know, he doesn't like the first amendment anyway so, cry me a river."

When the government potentially does something like that we should all find it disturbing and not jump to give them a free pass. If it turns out this isn't what it sounds like, fantastic, but it's worrying how many peoples' gut reactions to rights violations apparently depend upon whose rights are allegedly being violated.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:10 PM on May 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


> lupus_yonderboy, the question I asked was whether you would change your view if it turns out that those allegations were true.

I think I was too polite and did not get my point across.

First, the article is bullshit so hypotheticals based on that are pointless.

Second, the idea that there's some conspiracy in the IRS targeting Israeli lobbyists and the Tea Party is too stupid for words - particularly since Mr. Obama (who's the implied cause of all this, right?) has had very good relations with Israel and very bad ones with the Tea Party. Really, get a grip.

Third, the fact that you now have brought in the Second Amendment into a story about the IRS makes me think there's a lot of projection going on here...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:12 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't much like the NRA, but it's pretty clear to me that they are "standing up for folks' constitutional rights and educating people about how to exercise them."

Or it might be a political cover for conservative militias, and is all about assault weapon rights with militant, genocidal overtones. This might have begun with the NRA targeting the poorest urban areas that nobody from the NRA lives in, but who make it much easier for gangs to have assault weapons, as long as they buy them from a licensed dealer. If they wanted to protect gun rights, they wouldn't be advocating automatic sentencing for either unknowingly having a stolen weapon, or for having a weapon while carrying a controlled substance in a dangerous part of town. These are sincere positions for a racist and paranoid gun lobby to have, but not for a rights organization.
posted by Brian B. at 11:20 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


> certain peoples' first reactions trying to justify the IRS potentially doing something illegal and immoral

Words in English have actual meanings, you know.

The IRS gave heightened scrutiny to some political groups - groups who were very publicly anti-tax. And there is no evidence that this was politically motivated.

First, how is this "illegal"? Can we see the law that's being broken, please?

Second, what definition of "moral" makes this immoral?

Isn't it the IRS's job to validate if people really get to be tax exempt? Is it really unreasonable that they choose some groups over others - particularly those groups that publicly denounce taxes?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:20 PM on May 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


When you look at all the lobbying groups that 501c4s associated with them, they have to be very careful to limit the activities paid for by that money. Basically, it's almost not worth it to them unless they really do have some other activities that are purely educational and non-partisan that they can use to burnish their reputations. But some people want to give money only if they get a tax deduction, so the groups find things to do with it.

That's why the Republicans have a slam dunk here. They've got liberals who hate Citizens United fighting for a world in which partisan political speech paid for by corporations is both unfettered by any sort of regulation and TAX FREE. The results are predictable: tax dodgers gonna dodge taxes.

It's just not okay to violate people's rights, including their right to be treated fairly and equally under the law when they peaceably assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievances.

You don't have a right to be tax exempt while peaceably assembling and petitioning your government for a redress of grievances. You have a right to do it, and I'll defend your right to do it, but you don't have a right to do it tax free. My lobbying groups have to pay taxes and my contributions to them are not tax deductible, so it's a violation of my rights for groups with which I disagree to get tax exempt status for which they do not qualify.

The key here is that tax exemption is a subsidy, and it's wrong to subsidize political speech. Not taxing someone's partisan political speech while taxing my partisan political speech is a subsidy for their speech, and it's wrong for the government to subsidize partisan speech. Sure, it's wrong for them to subsidize my speech, too, but they don't do that so I'm not worried about my imaginary subsidy, I'm worried about the Tea Party's real one. How have we gotten so turned around that those concerned with equality are demanding that we ignore that unfairness?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:28 PM on May 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also, for the record, the ACLU is actually two entities.

The "ACLU" is a 501(c)(4) that engages in political lobbying. Donations are not tax deductible. If you become a member of the ACLU, you're a member of this org.

The "ACLU Foundation" is a 501(c)(3) that doesn't engage in lobbying - donations are tax deductible. It focuses on litigation and public education efforts.

They have to be strict about how they use funds, and how things like board meetings are run, to avoid violating the separation between these entities.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:28 PM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I voted for Obama twice, and I believe that it's overwhelmingly likely that he has no idea what individual IRS agents in Cincinnati are up to, much less that he's personally spearheading an anti-conservative tax conspiracy. I brought the Second Amendment into it to address a very specific accusation that the NRA was a front group for the gun industry. I brought Israel into it because the allegations in that lawsuit sound very similar to what the IRS has just admitted to doing.

I really don't appreciate being told to "get a grip," when I'm arguing for what I consider to be an extremely important principle of individual rights: that we don't let our government harass people because they have disagreeable political views. That comment was condescending and snide, and it doesn't contribute to a real discussion.

And with that, I'm giving myself a timeout from this thread, because I think I'm in danger of getting overly emotionally involved, and I don't want to be in the position of feeling compelled to respond to everything I read that I disagree with, which isn't good for anyone. If anyone wants to chat, feel free to MeMail me, but I'm not into the "hurf durf corporatist racist lying Republicans" thread we seem to be having here for the millionth time.
posted by decathecting at 11:30 PM on May 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


In the IRS' defense

These are not words I've seen in this order before.
posted by alex_reno at 11:30 PM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]



The "ACLU" is a 501(c)(4) that engages in political lobbying. Donations are not tax deductible. If you become a member of the ACLU, you're a member of this org.


Popping in to say this is what I was pretty sure is true and edited to add "Foundation" on seeing earlier comment! Carry on.
posted by kengraham at 11:33 PM on May 11, 2013


The "ACLU" is a 501(c)(4) that engages in political lobbying. Donations are not tax deductible.

While it's technically true that donations to 501c4s should not be tax deductible, in fact, the IRS has not been enforcing that rule for some time and certainly wasn't during the period under discussion. Donations to 501c4s are de facto tax deductible and folks have been deducting taxes for them.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:38 PM on May 11, 2013



kengraham, I'm not really sure what to do about an argument of the form "people who agree with me are working to 'promote social welfare,' while people who disagree with me are 'obviously' corporate shills." I'll just say that I disagree.


The NRA's stated goals align with the financial interests of a specific group, and the ACLU's really don't. This seems like a clear difference, i.e. I am not making the distinction because of guns, I am making the point that, since "social welfare" is incredibly ambiguous, "doesn't obviously favour a specific wallet, whether or not as its main motivation" seems like a useful bright line to draw.
posted by kengraham at 11:41 PM on May 11, 2013


Speaking about the NRA and the Tea Party, can we assume that the new president of the NRA is a birther? Calling Obama a "fake president" and talking about the need to "fight tyranny" sounds a bit suspicious.
posted by homunculus at 11:46 PM on May 11, 2013


I don't forget things easily… things like Ashcroft spying on fucking Quakers of all people. If that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.
posted by readyfreddy at 1:02 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is one of those scandals were what actually happened is something completely innocuous or trivial but the rightwing media blow it up until it becomes a scandal. Similar to that IPCC report on Climate Change, where irrelevant details were attacked as if invalidated the main conclusions.

I'd be not too quick to condemn this outrage.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:02 AM on May 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


While it's technically true that donations to 501c4s should not be tax deductible, in fact, the IRS has not been enforcing that rule for some time and certainly wasn't during the period under discussion. Donations to 501c4s are de facto tax deductible and folks have been deducting taxes for them.

I read the link provided, but it doesn't say anything about deductibility, only about applying gift taxes on amounts over $13,000. The gift tax is different beast from being able to deduct contributions as a charitable donation. Am I missing something?

Re the "outrage", prepare yourselves for a few years of it. It's all they're got.
posted by Steakfrites at 1:30 AM on May 12, 2013




The timing of tea party indignation and this investigation is interesting, considering that the tea party is a right-wing billionaire-funded faux-populist anti-tax movement.
posted by Brian B. at 2:29 AM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes, especially since the IRS knew about the problem before the 2012 elections. It's really quite surprising that the wicked billionaires failed to capitalise (!) on this when it would actually have done them some good.

I suppose they're playing 9-dimensional chess. Or perhaps things just happen when they happen, and there are always reasons to sneer at people's motives.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:12 AM on May 12, 2013


Weston, can you give me examples of hypothetical but likely activities that qualify Moveon.org, Media Matters, or the Center for American Progress as not solely partisan?

I would honestly be pretty surprised if anybody didn't consider MoveOn partisan. Probably Media Matters too. CAP doesn't belong in the same bucket (neither does the Heritage Foundation if you want something from a different place on the political spectrum for the sake of discussion). But Tea Party orgs are at least as partisan as MoveOn, and arguably more so. It's in the damn name. They don't just support/fundraise candidates, they field them. They're effectively a Republican subdelegation, any anomalous occasional libertarian candidate support notwithstanding.

Honestly, I think the biggest mystery here is why there might be a qualifying Tea Party 501c4 at all, unless it's also OK for the Republican and Democratic parties to operate one too -- and I'm sure many members of both of them see themselves as primarily about promoting social welfare, so why not, right?

Extra scrutiny here would be the minimum requirement for the IRS functioning (though arguably the IRS has not been functioning on this particular front).

A 501(c)(4) group is allowed to be partisan. It's allowed to have a point of view, and to engage in research, education, and publicity to promote that point of view, even where that point of view is about what laws we should have and how those laws should be interpreted.

Are you saying "partisan" = your second sentence? Or if that's what it means functionally under the law?

Defenders of Wildlife has a strong 501(c)(4) arm;... The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is a 501(c)(4) organization that "works to pass, enforce, and protect sensible laws and public policy that address gun violence at the federal and state level." The ACLU

Wildlife, Brady, and the ACLU all have a pretty specific areas they do policy and activism in, and fairly steady goalposts which don't move much. You could confidently predict that their goals and the sphere in which they operate would stay the same even if the two major parties swapped positions on relevant matters. They are squarely about social welfare positions.

If you think that Tea Party orgs/members are similarly constituted, I really don't know what to say.

Or, if the IRS believes that this sort of activity does make a group less likely to qualify for tax exemption, I'd argue that they should be equally interested in investigating groups with the word "Progressive" or "Progress" in their names.

I might agree with that, and at this point, given what the IRS has said, we don't know that isn't one of the other keywords they've used, though I have my suspicions that not quite so much effort and money has recently gone into a significant proliferation of 501c4s with those in the name.

This should be an issue about which all Americans should be concerned. The IRS, an arm of the federal government that has the power to compel people to provide personal information about their activities and to throw people in jail, has targeted particular groups for that sort of scrutiny based on their members' political beliefs.

I don't think we know that at this point in time. We know the IRS has apologized, though whether that's for diplomatic/political reasons or because they think there was some kind of actual abuse isn't clear. We know that some conservative groups feel persecuted, which is hardly news. We know the IRS has described a process in which some orgs got more scrutiny about qualification through certain keywords, and "tea party" was among them.

What I personally suspect, rather than the IRS carrying out some kind of particularly political slant, was that a good portion of the post Citizens United 501c4 flood of apps/operations were funded from the side of the political spectrum that's sympathetic to certain prominent laissez faire themes. A lot of that filtered into Tea Party orgs, which are far from unquestionably meeting a non-partisan bar. Judging by the campaigns their candidates run, they often have pretty amateur levels of sophistication to boot, so I'd bet they didn't dot their i's and cross their t's, so to speak. Possibly on top of that there are people at the IRS who are interested in fixing the monster c4s are unfolding into.

Under that scenario, there might well be markedly more attention to tea party groups, even without some kind of political vendetta. And that's all leaving out any kind of acknowledgment of the role tax-evading sympathies attached to such groups could play.

Maybe it went down differently than I'm describing. I don't mind the idea that the IRS should be investigated to see. I don't mind working to hold the IRS to high standards. I don't mind a real discussion about who/what tax exempt statuses are for and what constitutes even-handed determination about that.

I *do* mind the argument that it's somehow absolutely clear that Tea Party / patriot groups among others shouldn't be subject to extra scrutiny for 501(c)(4) status -- if they should even have it at all.

Not because of where they fall on the political spectrum, but because if their activity doesn't trigger scrutiny for disqualifying partisanship, then I don't know what activity is going meet that standard.
posted by weston at 4:01 AM on May 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


There goes that reservoir of goodwill the IRS built up over all those years....
posted by chavenet at 4:05 AM on May 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


My takeaway is that groups actively involved with lobbying for or against legislation are not allowed to be 501(c)4s. And the other takeaway is that the Sierra Club is uncommonly honest and above board.

Tax exemption (which 501c4's have) and tax deductability of donations (which they do not) are two separate things. These Tea Party groups were applying for the former.
posted by Jahaza at 4:09 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


this looks like a pretty serious scandal at the IRS. It should be investigated so whoever is to blame is taken to account.

The Church Commission has already looked into such matters back during the Nixon administration. The result was corrective laws to prevent further abuse. Such laws either need enforcing or review/replacement.

During the Clinton years there was the Judicial Watch case with the cite:
Judicial Watch next argues the comments of several IRS agents evidence an improper retaliatory motive. According to the taxpayer, one agent said the audit was a "hot potato," and another rhetorically asked, "What do you expect when you sue the President?"

And making the rounds this month is the IRS spokeswoman I'm not good at math part tied to the very FPP topic.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:11 AM on May 12, 2013


In the IRS' defense the Tea Party ideology is very anti-tax

So if the 'tea parties' get their way, the IRS agents would be out of a job?

I wonder how many times NORFED was audited? (NORFED wanted to be rid of the IRS)

How often does Scientologists and Scientology get audited as they have an anti-IRS stance?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:18 AM on May 12, 2013


How often do Scientologists get audited?

What's your budget?
posted by mikelieman at 4:35 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obama is pretty lucky here in that the only people who will give a shit about this already despise him.
posted by empath at 4:43 AM on May 12, 2013


In next week's scandal, the DEA admits they targeted for increased scrutiny groups that publish guides for growing pot without being caught by the police and manifestos asserting their moral right to do so.

That was 2 weeks ago for people who buy plant growing stuff, yet another outrage by some people doing hydroponics and not growing pot.

The IRS can be siced on you by any other part of the fed gov that feels the need.

Catherine Austin FItts makes a claim that they had punishing audits due to some software and a willingness to deploy some form of investing that would have put wal-mart out of business.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:46 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The IRS should not be apologizing. It should be releasing evidence showing these right wing outfits are indeed at least fudging the 501c3 and 501c4 rules. Because I'm pretty sure they are. I've spotted some of these outfits claiming 501c3 and actively lobbying and supporting candidates, and I'm an idiot about tax law. They send me e-mails (why, I don't know - I think one of my conservative buddies is poking at me), and I notified the IRS tip line about one particularly egregious outfit.

Maybe it seems like the IRS is targeting certain kinds of groups because those kinds of groups are the ones playing this game.
posted by tommyD at 4:58 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that there are better ways of finding tax cheats than by searching for charities called "something something patriots", just as I'm sure there are better ways to find terrorists than rounding up everyone called Mohammed. The IRS seems to be aware that it acted wrongly; as with all breaking news stories I expect we'll find out more in the coming days.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:07 AM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The IRS should not be apologizing. It should be releasing evidence showing these right wing outfits are indeed at least fudging the 501c3 and 501c4 rules.

And violate the privacy of taxpayers - which I believe is codified in law.

How many of you have bothered to draft a note to your congress-kritters and state:

As the reason for the 501/504/50whatever tax advantages is to do a public good and most state laws want the Corporations to be pubic assets for the public good, why are you not drafting up or signing onto legislation to make it mandatory that each of these public entities publish their accounting records each quarter?

Then every 'concerned citizen' can spend as much or as little time as they want auditing the bookkeeping of others and refer the flaws to the IRS for fining. The non profits already have to keep good records, what's the harm in having them 100% public?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:12 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


And violate the privacy of taxpayers - which I believe is codified in law.

I'm assuming you know about tax law and all - are 501c3 and 501c4 groups considered taxpayers?
posted by tommyD at 5:23 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The cognitive dissonance in this thread is truly fucking astounding. "Move on is partisan, but tea party groups are more partisan!" "This is like the East Anglia emails! Nothing even happened here!" "They're more political! I mean they have 'Tea Party' right in their name!" If nothing happened, the IRS wouldn't have gotten out in front of it to apologize. It is very likely that it is one person or some small subset of people, and its also very likely that it will be blown out of proportion. And yes, the stuff tax exempt organizations can get away with on all sides of the political spectrum is awful and should be seriously reformed. But the amount of partisan ass covering in this thread is just revolting.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:46 AM on May 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


FWIW, the Commissioner of the IRS is an political appointee position, and Doug Shulman (who held the position during this timeframe) was appointed by Bush, so if he didn't know about it or report it, the problem is not likely to be political outside the Cleveland office.

Of course, the fact that Senate GOP blocks almost every single political appointee Obama puts up (the reasons they're giving to block the new head of the EPA are getting progressively more ludicrous) won't even come up.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:07 AM on May 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are there really no liberals who are concerned about the implications of this? Are we so dug in to the foxholes of partisanship that nobody can look up and see that this kind of thing would be just as bad if it were aimed at liberal groups?

I'm liberal. When I heard that this happened, on NPR yesterday, I was distinctly uneasy and disappointed in a "wait, my side isn't supposed to do that" sense.

Reading all these comments has made me feel no different - no matter what a group's stated goals are, there are laws that protect their rights to pursue that, and laws which dictate their taxes. And someone was breaking those laws. Period.

Look, I think the Tea Party sucks dingo kidneys. But I would prefer to beat them honestly and fairly rather than cheating, and this feels like someone was cheating to try to beat them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:07 AM on May 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm with decathing and to sir with millipedes: this is not something to be spun or excused. The only good option here is opening up the investigation to show who ordered what and on which grounds, and almost certainly firing people for betraying the public trust if indeed the selection was driven by political views.

I voted for Obama twice, have a generally high level of distrust for the Tea Party, suspect that many of the 503c4's are effectively laundering political money, and yet none of that would make me one iota happier about such a sensitive agency becoming politicized. We do not want to go down that path.
posted by adamsc at 6:29 AM on May 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm assuming you know about tax law and all

Please find this mythical person.

Tax law is Congress has written, what the IRS has written, what has been decided to be enforced by auditors, what's been adjudicated in courts, and then finally the one off "for this taxpayer only" advice letters that others opt to use as guidance for their interpretations.

And example - the IRS was claiming in other cases the value of a gold $100 coin was $100. Yet, when a guy in Vegas who had money to spend 1/4 (or was it 1/8th of) a million in legal fees to research if he could pay contractors/staff $100 gold coins and write it off at $100 he got convicted of dodging taxes.

are 501c3 and 501c4 groups considered taxpayers

If they are not taxpayers, they are filers and some of the laws about releasing tax related paperwork has to do with filers. Just because someone isn't liked doesn't grant the right to violate laws. Do you wish to explain how your idea of showing their paperwork doesn't violate law?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:40 AM on May 12, 2013


Obama is pretty lucky here in that the only people who will give a shit about this already despise him. Empath

Now what exactly does this have to do with Obama? Maybe he hangs out in Cincinnati, I wasn't aware.
posted by Steakfrites at 6:47 AM on May 12, 2013


such a sensitive agency becoming politicized. We do not want to go down that path.

That path was already gone down with Nixon and in the upthread Judicial Watch link is claimed to have happened during the Clinton era.

No one got canned (as far as I know) WRT Judicial Watch. And given the track record WRT some human acting under the color of authority violating some rule which is supposed to constrain their actions - why does anyone think that somehow THIS time it will not only be different, but a start of a new trend of a Government that won't abuse the power it is trusted with?


Ya'll upset of "tea parties" and 50whatever status? Sign up to guidestar and do your own damn audits of the paperwork they have submitted. Its not much if they took in almost no money - 990-N if I remember correctly.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:52 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of non-conservatives who are pretty fuckin outraged about this.

I'm one of them.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:56 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now what exactly does this have to do with Obama?

Some blowvating on the matter have this as a Nixon level plot, the kind of thing the Church commission rooted out with Tricky Dick.

Its got more to do with stuck on stupid #39 definition of Repuplican or Democrat than demonstrated involvement by the President at this time.

If someone comes out with a sworn affidavit or other traceable documentation that there was involvement from the political side, well, then the people who had a theory about the executive branch conspired with the IRS will have more to go on.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:03 AM on May 12, 2013


Of possible interest: Just before this scandal broke, a friend of mine had to take care of the estate of his recently-deceased father-in-law, x. When my friend came back from finalizing everything, he said--and this is almost an exact quote: x gave a lot of money--a LOT of money--to "charities" that were actually thinly-veiled conservative political organizations.

I'm less inclined to circle the wagons than are many MeFi liberals...but I wonder whether there might not be a bigger problem with such violations on the right than on the left?
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:25 AM on May 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


So.....I've lurked at Metafilter since the early aughts, always meaning to join but never being able to (recall the early days when membership was closed to new people) or having the energy to. I'm a tax lawyer that's worked with nonprofits extensively, so this thread seemed like a good time to finally join up and weigh in.

on the question of political activity: you have to be very careful about language in law generally, tax law specifically, and nonprofit tax law specifically-er. In nonprof tax law especially, a lot of the analytical work is done with the definitions, and those definitions don't necessarily correspond to how we use the words in the vulgate. This area is a perfect example: "political activity" specifically refers to supporting or opposing candidates. 501(c)(4)s can engage in political activity as long as it isn't their "primary purpose" (often taken to mean that it can't be more than 50% of their expenditures). Supporting or opposing legislation is "lobbying," and a 501(c)(4) can engage in unlimited amounts of lobbying so long as it's related to their purpose. An acceptable purpose for a 501(c)(4) can be, and often is, distinctly partisan: anti-tax and anti-health care reform, for example, would be acceptable purposes.

I've done audit defense and helped nonprofs for about a decade, and I've corresponded with a lot of IRS field agents, and think I have a decent sense of how they operate. Based on that, I'd imagine that what happened here was this: there was a flood of tea party exemption applications, and probably a lot of them raised red flags due to the possibility that they'd be engaging in too much political activity (ie, supporting or opposing candidates). remember, a lot of their ire was directed at Obama, so a lot of their activities had some dual purpose stuff going on: yes, they supported anti-tax policies, but often did so by reference to Obama. So it gets sorta tricky and can warrant extra scrutiny.

in light of that, we can see how a line worker at the IRS would just flag all the tea party groups. It's not hard to see why they did it, even if it was imprudent. there was a flood of partisan 501(c)(4)s in that period (we used to call them "shadow PACs" pre-Citizens United), and they easily could've picked a criterion that would've captured the appropriate groups without seeming so nixonian.
posted by jpe at 7:46 AM on May 12, 2013 [47 favorites]


While it's technically true that donations to 501c4s should not be tax deductible, in fact, the IRS has not been enforcing that rule for some time and certainly wasn't during the period under discussion.

What you're talking about here is deductibility for purposes of the gift tax, which is a totally different ball of wax from deductibility under the income tax. you're exactly right that there's a lack of clarity around gift tax treatment, but there's no doubt - and never has been - that contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are not deductible for purposes of the income tax.
posted by jpe at 7:58 AM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


This issue is a nice demonstration of how deeply entrenched the battle lines are and how passionately the political positions can be espoused before virtually any of the facts are known. On the right this is yet another "WORSE THAN WATERGATE!!!" moment--before even a hint of a whiff of a soupcon of evidence of White House involvement (in fact, the IRS was headed by a Bush era appointee at the time that this was being done; and the IRS is, in any case, strongly insulated from White House interference). On the left we have a lot of predictable wagon circling.

Couldn't we just wait to see if anything actually comes out of further investigation that takes us beyond the pretty detailed IRS statement we already have?
posted by yoink at 8:06 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read this:

humanfont: "In the IRS' defense the Tea Party ideology is very anti-tax and full of people who seem to spend a lot of their time comming up with schemes to evade paying taxes."

Then this:

DecemberBoy: ""Ha ha, look at the cops beating the shit out of those stinky Occupy hippies! That's hilarious! Wait a minute... WHAT'S THIS? I'M OUTRAGED! HOW DARE THEY TARGET A POLITICAL GROUP!""

And my brain exploded.

Stay crazy, Metafilter.
posted by gertzedek at 8:10 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


How dare the IRS review the income tax returns of people who oppose and avoid income tax!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:20 AM on May 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


As far as I am concerned, the important questions is simply this: Were groups targeted for political reasons? Note that this is a very different question from "were groups associated with one particular political agenda investigated more than others?" I imagine that if there was a yacht tax, you'd find that the IRS disproportionately investigated old white dudes for yacht tax evasion.
posted by Nothing at 8:20 AM on May 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


It seems like it would be pretty trivial to draft viewpoint-neutral criteria for whether a given entity deserved further investigation. Since it wasn't done in this case- they were explicitly using words tied to the tea party and Glenn Beck to determine if extra scrutiny was needed- then it seems to be clearly an abuse. You can't go on a supposition that says "this political group advocates for lower taxes, so we'll investigate them more" without violating equal protection and freedom of speech. You could say "Apply more thorough investigation to entities that are recently formed and explicitly political in origin". Referencing the subject's politics is the red line being crossed here- even if you have a credible belief that the subject's politics make certain behaviors more likely.

The fundamental question seems to be whether this was malice or stupidity. Based on Hanlon's razor, I'm going to assume stupidity- but they probably should have kicked it up to the political tier as soon as it was discovered, rather than trying to sit on it until after the election.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:22 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, over the next several months we're going to spend a lot of resources parsing the difference between "profiling" and "targeting."
posted by notyou at 8:26 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Near as I can tell from the actual timeline events list it goes something like:

Some person sees a bunch of applications from a new political party applying for an apolitical tax-exempt status and tries to flag them all for extra scrutiny, which is inappropriate since that targets a specific political group.

Their boss learns of it, tells them to cut it out.

Two months later there's a management meeting to discuss the problem

Finally, four months later, they get a set of nonpartisan guidelines laid out for dealing with this sort of thing.

I'm not finding a lot to be outraged about, besides bureaucracies being slow.Someone screwed up. It got fixed. Probably under political pressure. I'm pretty sure the parts of the system I and every other person deal with on a day to day basis are even more dysfunctional and I don't have a big ol' political party to complain about it for me Republican or Democrat.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:29 AM on May 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Are these Tea Party groups part of the 47%?
posted by dirigibleman at 8:32 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm with decatheting as well, to the extent that it can be shown that the targeting was for political reasons and not, for instance, that a pattern of tax avoidance bordering on tax evasion had emerged among Tea Party organizations such that some increased scrutiny might have been warranted. I really don't know whether that is the case, and am not suggesting that it is or is not. If this scrutiny was politically motivated, that is deeply chilling.

By the same token, there was a big stink a couple of years ago when the FBI or Homeland Security put out a memo saying that they were concerned about increased violent and militia-like activities on behalf of radical right-wing, white supremacist groups. I think that such concern can be appropriate when it is not motivated by the politics of the groups but by their propensity to break or skirt really close to breaking the law. I can imagine a similar thing going on here.

Non-profit tax compliance is pretty complex, and a lot of these organizations are very young. It's not unthinkable that a significant number of them might be making mistakes such that "Tea Party" might correlate strongly with being in need of higher scrutiny. I could easily see that happening.

But again, I don't know whether that is the case or not and I definitely oppose politically-motivated use of the IRS in this way. I think it's too early to tell whether that's what's going on here, though.
posted by gauche at 8:33 AM on May 12, 2013


jpe - thanks for providing your perspective.

(and, welcome!)
posted by triggerfinger at 8:34 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


How dare the IRS review the income tax returns of people who oppose and avoid income tax

Income tax returns are not involved in this case at all.
posted by Jahaza at 8:53 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since the GOP and the tea party will scream CONSPIRACY! I will indulge in a little conspiracy theorizing myself: The Bush appointee in charge of the Cincinnati office directs his staff to target tea party groups with 501c4 investigations, knowing it will both discredit the fringe tea party that the establishment GOPers are getting worried about, and give the entire right wing something to beat the Obama administration over the head with.

I have absolutely no evidence of this, but it is fun to think about.
posted by tommyD at 8:56 AM on May 12, 2013


I have absolutely no evidence of this, but it is fun to think about.

metafiltercolon
posted by Trochanter at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2013


@ triggering: thanks! a little weird that after a dozen years I'd jump in to sorta-defend the tea party, but weirder things have happened......probably.

@ jenkinsEar: that's spot on, although one thing we know from various IG reports over the years is that the IRS has truly terrible internal controls over its operations.
posted by jpe at 9:22 AM on May 12, 2013


The Taxman vs. the Tea Party
Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.

The historical term for this kind of anxiety is “Brown Scare” — an inordinate fear of a vast far-right conspiracy, which resembles the anti-Communist panics of our past. As the historian Philip Jenkins wrote in 2009, Brown Scares no less than Red Scares recur throughout American history. They fasten on real-enough phenomena, from homegrown fascist sympathizers in the 1930s to the militia movements in the 1990s, but then wildly exaggerate both the danger these extremists pose and their ties to the conservative mainstream.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:24 AM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Stay crazy, Metafilter.

Cute. Why doncha explain why it's so crazy? These are literally the same people who laughed about the cops terrorizing Occupy Oakland and everyone else they don't like, and they're "OUTRAGED" when it happens to them.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:32 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The cognitive dissonance in this thread is truly fucking astounding. "Move on is partisan, but tea party groups are more partisan!" "This is like the East Anglia emails! Nothing even happened here!" "They're more political! I mean they have 'Tea Party' right in their name!"

I'm mildly interested to know if you have some kind of counterarguments to offer for some of these assertions beyond an apparent ability to carelessly sling about the term "cognitive dissonance", but it's somewhat blunted by the impression you've left with your commentary so far.
posted by weston at 9:35 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Non-profit tax compliance is pretty complex, and a lot of these organizations are very young.

And young orgs typically make mistakes when chasing their non profit dreams. I can think of one that got a $10,000 grant and went and spent it on rent. Even when the grant said "do not spend it on rent".

Even after it was pointed out by a member of the board to not spend it on rent. The gal running the show lied to the rest of the board about having the authorization to spend the money on rent AND demanded the board member to stop talking to the donor asking for details of the donation. (She is now the executive director and gets a paycheck)
posted by rough ashlar at 9:39 AM on May 12, 2013


Apologies if this was already addressed upthread and I missed it - but even if Tea Party groups do not individually or generally incorporate tax evasion or other anti-tax principles into their mission, they have intentionally named all of their organizations after an event in which political activists illegally destroyed an entire shipload of merchandise solely to prevent taxes being collected on it.

If this was really a case of someone using bureaucratic power to try to cripple the political activity of a particular ideology then yes that is really bad and heads must roll - it just seems extremely feasible that it was not. A good point was made earlier that this is just like the DEA investing extra scrutiny in organizations with "420" in their name, or the DHS taking extra notice when a whole bunch of organizations with the word "revolutionary" in their names suddenly pop up at the same time.

In the event of the latter two agencies being reported as not taking that discriminating view of obvious flags, many Tea Party adherents would sneer and rage and conspiracy theorize about political correctness and how government simply cannot be trusted to execute its duties except in the most ineffectual and dysfunctional way. Which is what makes many of us revel in drinking their delicious, delicious tears on this occasion.
posted by XMLicious at 10:03 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The cognitive dissonance in this thread is truly fucking astounding. "Move on is partisan, but tea party groups are more partisan!" [...]

That's not what cognitive dissonance means.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Taxman vs. the Tea Party

Wrong thread.
posted by homunculus at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pattern Recognition.

Get used to it.
posted by mule98J at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2013


A Note on the Provenance of the Right-Wing 'Tyranny' Meme

See also: Communism!
posted by Sys Rq at 11:29 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Again, let's put this into perspective.

There's no evidence so far that this was due to political bias at all. Given the extremely shoddy record of the Tea Party's finances in even the short time they've been around - the Bachmann scandal is only the most prominent, but it's certainly enlightening considering that she flaunted the law after being repeated warned by multiple sources that she was doing so - so it's hardly unreasonable for them to investigate other related groups.

And what were the consequences? It seems that many of the groups were investigated and never knew. Quite a few of them had to put up a lot more information - this probably cost them some money to do.

Did any of them have to close or alter their operations as a result? Apparently not. Did they get incorrectly judged, or unfairly have to pay extra taxes? Apparently not.

Now let's look at some other government enforcement screw-ups recently. HSBC was repeatedly warned every year for years by "regulators" but no one did anything, simply telling them "Don't do it again," every year for years - until it finally comes out that they've been money-laundering billions of dollars for the very worst criminals and terrorists in the world.

Did we get an apology from the regulators here?

ACORN - destroyed - where's our apology?

Blackwater gets off of all murder charges through multiple mistrials, based on work by the US prosecutors that was so shoddy that even the presiding judge commented on it in his summing up.

Are we going to get an apology?

Eighteen hundred people were arrested to prevent them protesting the RNC (yes, they were nearly all arrested on the way to the protest!) - and when it got to trial and the video evidence was shown, it turned out that almost all the police's testimony was perjury and over 90% of the charges were immediately dropped.

Did we get an apology? The Bloombag administration has fought for years to protect the identities of the police officers who lied in order to convict people of felonies that would have meant serious jail time. Does that sound like an apology to you?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:42 AM on May 12, 2013 [23 favorites]


(I'm going to pretend that the edit window has closed, because I like that typo...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:43 AM on May 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bravo, lupus_yonderboy!
posted by NiteMayr at 12:07 PM on May 12, 2013


the IRS was claiming in other cases the value of a gold $100 coin was $100.

Which cases where these? I'd assume the IRS would go with the simple "Face value or metal value, whichever is larger".
posted by ymgve at 12:12 PM on May 12, 2013


I'd imagine that what happened here was this: there was a flood of tea party exemption applications, and probably a lot of them raised red flags...

I agree with your assessment, Jpe. I don't practice tax law but I'm familiar enough with the internals of bureaucracies that this was my guess, too. The IRS's response that this wasn't partisan targeting but merely a "shortcut" is remarkably stupid and tone-deaf as a public statement—but strictly in terms of explanation, it's probably accurate.

Unfortunately, it's an example that serves in defense of bureaucracy. Foolish decisions like this are the justification for moving decision-making responsibility up the chain. And I hate that. I favor allowing people discretion in the mechanics of how they perform their jobs, but sometimes that leads you into real trouble.
posted by cribcage at 12:14 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


How dare the IRS review the income tax returns of people who oppose and avoid income tax!

I know you really want to believe this is what happened so you can keep thinking this wasn't a partisan fuckup, but this is not what happened.

This was a partisan fuckup. We need to admit that it was and admit it was wrong. Because, dammit, even if our side can't avoid this partisan bullshit, can't we at least distinguish ourselves by being big enough to admit to our mistakes?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:23 PM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Washington Post: IRS targeted groups that criticized the government, IG report says
At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service officials targeted nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution, according to documents in an audit conducted by the agency’s inspector general.
This is starting to look broader than a couple of low-level drones running keyword searches for "Tea Party" and "Patriot".
posted by BobbyVan at 12:28 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is starting to look broader than a couple of low-level drones running keyword searches for "Tea Party" and "Patriot".

Yes. Because the Washington Post spun it that way.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:32 PM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: I think part of that should be acknowledging that some people acted politically but doing so in the context of a full, independent investigation and release as much as possible online – it'll mean some mid-level careers vaporize but that's better than the way the ongoing story is fueled by guessing about how high up it went.
posted by adamsc at 12:36 PM on May 12, 2013


I think part of that should be acknowledging that some people acted politically but doing so in the context of a full, independent investigation and release as much as possible online – it'll mean some mid-level careers vaporize but that's better than the way the ongoing story is fueled by guessing about how high up it went.

I'm not doing any speculating about "how high up it went." On the contrary, I am pretty sure it was just a handful of guys acting independently. But they were a handful of guys in my side of the political fence, and dammit, they should have known that I am now going to be tagged with that same broad brush.

I'm having a reaction that I often see on another board I've been to - "stop being on my side, you're making my side look stupid".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:39 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because, dammit, even if our side can't avoid this partisan bullshit, can't we at least distinguish ourselves by being big enough to admit to our mistakes?

I'm all for admitting it the moment we know that it's true. But I still don't know that. If the Tea Party applications were frequently dodgy and very similar to each other, it is a more than convenient basis for a red flag profile, so that in itself is actually a pretty compelling explanation. The appearance of partisanship would therefore be a simple corollary of the fact that the Tea Party is -- hey, guess what? Partisan. I'm not saying it's true, I'm saying it's an internally consistent and sound explanation. If it's not true then I'm with you. But it's insane to fall on your sword when not actually guilty. So let's see how it develops, eh?
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:03 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The IRS would have done well to not apologize. Most of the Right never apologizes, regardless the audacity or unfairness of their mistakes. Instead, they aggressively double down... and in the end, get away with what they did.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:12 PM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


> This was a partisan fuckup.

The IRS has a pretty good track record of avoiding improper influence from the executive branch.

And all the articles above are clear to say that there's (so far) no evidence whatsoever that this was a partisan fuckup.

Do you have any evidence we haven't seen yet? Otherwise, perhaps you should restate this as, "I believe this was a partisan fuckup, but so far there's no evidence of this."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:26 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is starting to look broader than a couple of low-level drones running keyword searches for "Tea Party" and "Patriot".

If by "broader" you mean "expanding the definition to both limiting and expanding government/Bill of Rights coverage/social welfare," then yes. Perhaps you should have included that information from the article in the quote you used instead of a single sentence devoid of context.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:28 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have to wonder how much better this could have gone if the IRS had simply had a better spokesperson at the initial press conference. Right now, the story seems to lack much substance beyond some people in an office in Ohio taking the easy way out when it came to doing their job. This is definitely a problem, but it doesn't rise to the level of some kind of immediate mea culpa and falling on swords by people who don't even appear to have been involved, since the administrator was a Bush appointee.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:32 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


> sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution,

You must be aware, right, that there are a large group of people who seek to "educate" people about the U.S. Constitution by telling them that the Constitution prohibits income tax?

The IRS has been death from above on these people - and they are rationally right to do so. I've had some unfun interactions with the IRS in the past - they literally showed up at my door once! - but they were actually extremely reasonable once it was clear to them that I wasn't jerking them around, they waived a bunch of penalties (and it was definitely my fault!) and were generally very helpful in a scary, stern way.

And that makes rational sense too. The IRS wants to maximize their collections, and that's about it. If they show and up say, "You didn't do your taxes," and you're all "Oops, sorry, I'm getting an accountant," they get their money, and it's a good example to others.

But if a tax resister gets into their face and say, "You have no right to collect my taxes" - that's a dangerous thing for them. If even 5% of their taxpayers did this, the system would break down. I'm a taxpayer, and I deeply resent my taxes going to the military and bailouts, and yet I agree completely with the IRS's strategy. It isn't their job to decide how the taxes are spent, just to collect them fairly.

That article, again, has no specific details at all so it's hard to really refute or affirm it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:39 PM on May 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Using quotes from the article, here's the apparent timeline:

June 29, 2011:
IRS staffers held a briefing with senior agency official Lois G. Lerner in which they described giving special attention to instances where “statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.” Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups for the agency, raised objections and the agency revised its criteria a week later.
Jan. 15, 2012:
[T]he agency decided to target “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement.,”
May 17, 2012:
[T]he 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.)”
So basically, in June 2011 Lerner learns about the stupid fucks in Cleveland and tells them (or their bosses) that they are, indeed, being stupid fucks and to stop being fucking stupid, likely using some or all of those exact words because it is her ass on the line. In January 2012, the IRS decides to reinstate the program, but this time looking at everybody involved in social welfare regardless of partisanship. And finally, in May 2012, they just decide to go after shady PACs, something that should be familiar to conservatives because they spent the entire month (or more) after the election telling everybody with a microphone that Rove et al should have got that treatment.

I'm not seeing anything proving that this Went All The Way Up To The Top (or even to the IRS Commissioner, for that matter), that this was IRS-wide policy, or that any 501c4 groups lost their status due to partisanship. If anyone has something else that says this, they're free to provide it. If it's true, then it's partisan assholery by some people, but at this point trying to make this into Nixon-level skullduggery is pure paranoid invention.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:52 PM on May 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


How often does Scientologists and Scientology get audited as they have an anti-IRS stance?

Their war with the IRS lasted 26 years, apparently, until it was rumored that they targeted the IRS leadership until the IRS caved suddenly and gave them tax exempt status. Also known as Operation Snow White.

Others are calling for a review of their tax-exempt status.
posted by Brian B. at 1:56 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am not suprised by this
posted by clavdivs at 1:57 PM on May 12, 2013


>Their war with the IRS lasted 26 years, apparently, until it was rumored that they targeted the IRS leadership until the IRS caved suddenly and gave them tax exempt status.

That whole story is an astonishing one - if you saw it in a movie, you'd never believe it. Strangely, the Scientologists never backed down or cooperated, doing ridiculous things like moving all their books off-shore onto three ships kept permanently in international waters and known as Sea Org.

There has been an ongoing rumor from various figures in the conspiracy theory/Fortean world that it was finally settled by having much of the senior staff of the IRS seduced by operatives and then presented with remarkably clear blackmail videos, but I've never seen the slightest evidence to this effect. I think everyone was surprised when the IRS suddenly capitulated for no obvious reason, so it stands to reason that such an explanation might pop up.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:07 PM on May 12, 2013


The Scientology story definitely is wild. They basically beat the IRS with Nixon's playbook and got away with it. It's like Ocean's 11 for cult leaders.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:11 PM on May 12, 2013


NAACP blames tax audit on criticism of Bush (2004)

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning (2005)

IRS Audited Greenpeace At Request of ExxonMobil-Funded Group (2006)

Notable that 1) this kind of thing seems to be an ongoing problem for the IRS regardless of administration, and 2) conservatives (and, for that matter, liberals) weren't making cryptic conspiracy theories about this involving Bush himself having controlled this and calling for his impeachment. Hell, the second case got the DOJ involved, which seems far more alarming than anything related to the current case.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:12 PM on May 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


The online magazine Commentary (which is a 501 (c)-3) alleges that in 2009 it
received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service threatening the revocation of the institution’s standing as a non-profit due to a claim that on our website we had crossed the line in the 2008 election from analysis to explicit advocacy of the candidacy of John McCain for president. [...]

Taking away a non-profit’s ability to receive tax-exempt charitable contributions is equivalent to a death sentence.
All such letters must, of course, be taken very seriously, and Commentary says that it spent "tens of thousands of dollars and dozens upon dozens of hours of lost work time" in responding to it. The charges were baseless and Commentary escaped relatively easily - but the threat of government interference with the press should not be taken lightly. If this were a matter of, e.g., libel or "official secrets" then courts would treat a publisher's rights with the greatest deference, but the IRS is not a court and and vindication through the court system is difficult, expensive, and very probably futile.

The opaque or discretionary nature of IRS determinations is bad enough; the suggestion that they have been used to silence unpopular views means that the system needs a thorough examination.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:49 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The people who are upset about this are essentially the same people who put ACORN out of business over what turned out to be 100% FALSE accusations and fake videos. Please, IRS. Screw them. Screw them hard.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:31 PM on May 12, 2013


the suggestion that they have been used to silence unpopular views means that the system needs a thorough examination.

First of all, no: evidence is required, not suggestion. Merely using suggestion as a basis for investigation is a form of silencing opposing views itself, as ACORN and the US DOJ Civil Rights Division are familiar with. But yes, the system--more the 501c4 system itself, which should be magnitudes more important than the determination--needs examination, which is why literally everything that Podhoretz mentions is already being done:
Has the IRS inspector general gotten involved?
Yes.
Has a U.S. attorney been apprised of this matter, which can only be considered an act of political intimidation and therefore would fall under the aegis of various federal criminal statutes?
Yes, although not as an act of political intimidation, as it does not appear to have gone higher than individuals at the field office.
If the fact that the targeted groups are conservative means that the story is soft-pedaled and not subject to major investigative scrutiny, any argument against liberal bias evaporates now and forever. Will this be brought up at today’s press briefing at the White House with Jay Carney?
Yes, it was, as the OP mentions multiple times.
You can bet that had any such thing happened in reverse during the Bush administration, Tony Snow would have been bombarded with questions for weeks if not months.
And yet, it did happen, multiple times and with evidence (not suggestion) of collaboration at higher levels and multiple agencies, and Tony Snow was not bombarded with questions apparently at all, let alone for weeks or months. Since it was not subject to major investigative scrutiny by the mainstream media, does this mean that any argument for liberal bias evaporates now and forever? Anybody want to put money on John Podhoretz ever mentioning any of it?
posted by zombieflanders at 6:13 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The opaque or discretionary nature of IRS determinations is bad enough

there are really two problems: the law itself is vague, which makes enforcement difficult. second, the IRS EO division is understaffed, so when they do take enforcement actions it seems like it comes out of nowhere. Neither of those are the fault of the IRS, and I submit that the first two investigations you cite were warranted. Those groups either went up to the line very publicly and, IMHO, crossed it.
posted by jpe at 6:20 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Zombieflanders wrote: evidence is required, not suggestion.

Evidence is what you find by making an investigation.

Merely using suggestion as a basis for investigation is a form of silencing opposing views itself

What? Are you asserting that the IRS has a right to free speech, and that investigating a possible abuse of its powers would breach that right? This is Wonderland logic.

jpe: Your analysis sounds right to me. We have similar problems in Australia, too. On the other hand, there is an inherent tension between freedom of the press and a law that distinguishes between different sorts of political speech. I can't imagine that a well-established magazine like Commentary could be thought to have a "primary purpose" of supporting a particular candidate, and the possibility that it might have such a purpose doesn't really pass the sniff test. It isn't the IRS's fault that it has been burdened with the present laws, but the dangers of unconstitutional suppression of free speech means that it must be especially careful and especially open about its behavior in this area.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:38 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Evidence is what you find by making an investigation.

No, evidence is what you provide to begin an investigation. You don't investigate someone for committing a crime out of nowhere, do you? No, you require either witnesses to contact you with evidence (which may or may not be manufactured) or you come across evidence of the crime. No one suggested that Commentary was illegally endorsing a candidate, someone thought that the transcript was from the magazine. Conversely, their evidence of alleged improper behavior is the letter.

What? Are you asserting that the IRS has a right to free speech, and that investigating a possible abuse of its powers would breach that right? This is Wonderland logic.

Oh, c'mon, it's obvious that I'm not saying that investigating possible abuses of power would be illegal. I'm saying that one can't just suggest that something is hinky to request an investigation, they should have to provide some evidence (in this case, letters or burdensome requests) that something happened. I don't see how that qualifies as "Wonderland logic." Maybe you just didn't word it correctly, but "suggestion" implies bias, profiling, or some sort of precrime-type weirdness rather than proof that something is wrong. It would be as if anyone could ask for an investigation merely because the IRS collects taxes.

It isn't the IRS's fault that it has been burdened with the present laws, but the dangers of unconstitutional suppression of free speech means that it must be especially careful and especially open about its behavior in this area.

Which, for the most part, it is. But the organization can't be on top of everyone at once (remember that all evidence currently points to this as an individual office issue rather than an agency-wide one), and that the law can be interpreted rather loosely by both the IRS and the 501c4s, which is the point jpe seems to be making. This is why people keep on making the point that 501c4 laws and the Citizens United ruling need scrutiny instead of ignoring the problem in favor of attacking the IRS as a whole and coming up with conspiracy theories as to how Obama is personally involved without any evidence of either. The suggestions that the problem is entirely with the agency rather than partly or mostly with the law and individuals seems really misguided.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:29 PM on May 12, 2013


I just want to point out an article way up there said "They’re tax-exempt — which means, in effect, that your tax dollars subsidize them." which is just cancer in terms of logic.
posted by jscott at 7:56 PM on May 12, 2013


Um, no, that logic is correct. Sorry.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:14 PM on May 12, 2013


Tax exemptions are most definitely subsidies.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:21 PM on May 12, 2013


Tax exemption is a red herring. These types of organizations spend everything they collect so there are no profits to tax.

The issue is election transparency. 501(c)4 organizations may advocate policy but they cannot campaign directly for and coordinate with candidates for office. On the other hand, political campaign committees are 527 organizations and may campaign for and against candidates but must disclose to the public their donors and the amount of their donations. That is election law and required for election transparency.

These fake 501(c)4 organizations want to have it both ways -- to do political campaigning and keep their donors secret. That is the violation, not tax exemption which is a non-issue.

Organizations like Move On and the ACLU have separate divisions. One is a 501(c)4 which can advocate policy and the other is a 527 which can do candidate campaigning and must disclose their donors. These Tea Party organizations do not. They directly assist the campaigns of their candidates and try to keep their donors secret. That is a violation of election law.
posted by JackFlash at 9:55 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Welcome, joe! That was a great comment!
posted by klangklangston at 11:06 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jackflash: so why is it the IRS that was investigating them, and not some other body? Does the IRS handle election monitoring in the USA? Because that's just weird.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:07 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you, Klangklangston. Your welcome was a bit belated, since I've been here for nearly seven years, but I appreciate the sentiment and I do not think it at all likely that you mistyped "jpe", the two keys being so far away and all.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:12 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I agree with your assessment, Jpe. I don't practice tax law but I'm familiar enough with the internals of bureaucracies that this was my guess, too. The IRS's response that this wasn't partisan targeting but merely a "shortcut" is remarkably stupid and tone-deaf as a public statement—but strictly in terms of explanation, it's probably accurate.

Unfortunately, it's an example that serves in defense of bureaucracy. Foolish decisions like this are the justification for moving decision-making responsibility up the chain. And I hate that. I favor allowing people discretion in the mechanics of how they perform their jobs, but sometimes that leads you into real trouble.
"

Yeah, what upsets me about this is not that I think the IRS was evil, but that I think they were stupid, and I'd rather not have stupid people in my government.

As for the point about bureaucracy, I think that can be one of the ways that conservative criticism of government can be accurate but limited, that massive bureaucracies will make bad decisions and will double down by slowing the decision process, and that because the government has to serve all audiences fairly much by definition there are many more opportunities to have fuck-ups amplified.

(Gets to that "There's only a rule/warning here because somebody fucked it up for all of us" experience.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Thank you, Klangklangston. Your welcome was a bit belated, since I've been here for nearly seven years, but I appreciate the sentiment and I do not think it at all likely that you mistyped "jpe", the two keys being so far away and all."

How's Australia, jpe?
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 PM on May 12, 2013




Under Bush, it was official IRS policy that Jesus supported the administration's doctrine of preemptive war:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service has warned a prominent liberal church that it could lose its tax-exempt status because of an anti-war sermon a guest preacher gave on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, according to church officials. USA Today 11/8/2005
posted by Davenhill at 12:00 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]






IRS targeted groups critical of government, documents from agency probe show

Worth reading to see techniques used to delay and stymie applications. Also
the process not only consumed time and effort but prompted the group to scale back its 2012 get-out-the-vote operation. “We were afraid to do it and get in trouble,” she said.
Wider Problems Found at IRS
Probe Says Tax Agency Used Sweeping Criteria to Scrutinize Conservative Groups
According to the report, by June 2011 some IRS specialists were probing applications using the following criteria: "issues include government spending, government debt or taxes; education of the public by advocacy/lobbying to 'make America a better place to live'; statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run."

posted by Joe in Australia at 2:46 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wider Problems Found at IRS
Probe Says Tax Agency Used Sweeping Criteria to Scrutinize Conservative Groups


And yet, the content of the article does not actually point to wider problems at the IRS or that the IRS as a whole used sweeping criteria to scrutinize conservative groups. Indeed, it says absolutely nothing not already mentioned upthread. From the article:
On Friday, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax-exempt-organizations division, said the agency was "apologetic" for what she termed "absolutely inappropriate" actions by lower-level workers. She said those workers had selected some conservative groups for extra scrutiny to determine whether their applications should be approved. She said they had picked groups for extra scrutiny according to whether they had "tea party" or "patriot" in their names, among other criteria.
[...]
The IRS said over the weekend it is in the process of independently confirming the dates mentioned on the timeline of events contained in the inspector general report, "but we believe the [inspector general's] timeline is correct." The IRS said the report supports its view that its missteps weren't politically motivated and were limited to lower-level workers.

The IRS also said the report reflects that "IRS senior leadership was not aware of this level of specific details" at the time of a March 2012 hearing where Mr. Shulman denied any targeting of conservative groups. Mr. Shulman, who no longer works for the IRS, declined to comment.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:22 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only thing that this "scandal" proves is that right-wingers want to dismantle this country with bogus allegation after bogus allegation of misconduct by anyone who dares to be on their political left. They could care less if their allegations are even true.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:22 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


IRS targeted groups critical of government, documents from agency probe show

Key Points [from the Post article above]
The point that has surprisingly gotten little attention so far is that while high level IRS employees were told about the targeting of phrases like “tea party” and “patriot” in 2011, the person who was told, the head of the division overseeing non-profits, told them to stop. That sounds like a pretty relevant fact in terms of evaluating whether this came from the top or bubbled up from the staff level before getting discontinued by supervisors.
[...]
[T]he January 2012 standard seems pretty broad and non-problematic. It speaks of expanding or limiting government, about the constitution and the bill of rights and “social economic reform movement”. Presumably that last part means ‘social and economic reform movements”? These are pretty generic descriptions of political advocacy and ones that cover the right and the left in equal measure.

There’s one point here that’s important not to forget: there’s a huge amount of political groups masquerading as educational and social welfare groups. They all deserve more scrutiny, right and left. Everybody who follows this stuff knows that. It’s not clear to me that the January 2012 standard was even a problem and it was watered down even more by the middle of the year.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:15 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Zombieflanders, you're welcome to start a MetaTalk thread about those links. I'm not the one who wrote the headlines, though, and you seem to have missed the pull quote that does mention new facts - ones which appear to contradict Lois Lerner's statement. Oh, and that the IRS was pushing these groups to reveal their donor lists, another new detail.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:17 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Zombieflanders, you're welcome to start a MetaTalk thread about those links.

I'm not sure why the links shouldn't be discussed here, unless you are deliberately posting the same info over and over for no good reason, which would be a problem.

I'm not the one who wrote the headlines, though, and you seem to have missed the pull quote that does mention new facts - ones which appear to contradict Lois Lerner's statement.

What new facts are those? Go back and read the timeline I posted yesterday and point out the new data that contradicts Lerner from the article.

Oh, and that the IRS was pushing these groups to reveal their donor lists, another new detail.

Nope, that information is linked in the third link from the FPP, which says that "[i]n some cases, the IRS acknowledged, agents [from the Cincinnati office] inappropriately asked for lists of donors."
posted by zombieflanders at 4:37 AM on May 13, 2013


Again, let's put this into perspective.
There's no evidence so far that this was due to political bias at all.


But there is now the following in circulation:

"A report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that is going to be released this week shows that the targeting of patriots and Tea Party groups began as early as March 2010, and that the head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division was specifically told about this targeting in June 2011. But then the IRS lied to Congress five separate times between November 18th, 2011 and June 15th, 2012 about what was going on. IRS officials flat out lied to Congress and adamantly denied that patriots and Tea Party groups had been specifically targeted." (not clear yet to me if the parties involved had direct knowledge via a papertrail or fall under the 'bosses should know/are responsible for underlings' situation.)

So is lying to Congress interesting enough for the members of the Blue to care to defend the Devil?
Because even the Devil needs benefit of the law.


Lupus_wonderboy is complaining aout the generalized closing ranks and covering up that goes on across most organizations and cherry picked* the "liberal" ones. Until there is some form of harsh punishment or a genetic re-engineering of the human condition, there will continue to be coverups and punishment to people who try to expose wrongs. If there was a violation of law in LW's cites or this new case, if citizens had the power to take matters to a Grand Jury then a determination of evidence of a crime could be made by fellow citizens and referred to the Judicial system.



* Its metafilter - of course that'll happen. Any apologies issued should be for abuse of power, no matter who was abused. It's bullshit no matter who gets the short brown sticky end of the stick.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:29 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon: "They could care less if their allegations are even true."

Wait, who is "they" again?
posted by BobbyVan at 5:45 AM on May 13, 2013


But there is now the following in circulation:

"A report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that is going to be released this week shows that the targeting of patriots and Tea Party groups began as early as March 2010, and that the head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division was specifically told about this targeting in June 2011. But then the IRS lied to Congress five separate times between November 18th, 2011 and June 15th, 2012 about what was going on. IRS officials flat out lied to Congress and adamantly denied that patriots and Tea Party groups had been specifically targeted."


So an Infowars article that claims "[w]ithout a doubt, members of the Obama administration and key players in the Obama campaign were aware of what Congress was asking the IRS" is a news source now? Really?

(not clear yet to me if the parties involved had direct knowledge via a papertrail or fall under the 'bosses should know/are responsible for underlings' situation.)

So you're not clear that anyone actually lied to Congress, but you're going to make the accusation anyway. Brilliant!

So is lying to Congress interesting enough for the members of the Blue to care to defend the Devil?
Because even the Devil needs benefit of the law.


Which is basically what people here are saying, minus the still-unconfirmed "lying to Congress" part.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:59 AM on May 13, 2013


The good reasons for the IRS’s dumb mistake
The context for all this is that after Citizens United and some related decisions, the number of groups registering as 501(c)4s doubled. Because the timing of that doubling coincided with a rise in political activism on the right rather than the left, a lot of the politicized groups attempting to register as 501(c)4s were describing their purpose in tea party terms. A popular conceit, for instance, was that they existed to educate on the Constitution — even if the particular pedagogical method meant participating in Republican Party primaries and pressuring incumbent politicians.

In looking for that kind of language in 2010, the Cincinnati employees were attempting to create a usable shortcut. Like Willie Sutton robbing banks, they were going where the action was. But they needed a clearer test that also identified the language of the left, even if left-leaning groups weren’t exhibiting the same surge in activism. And, frankly, it shouldn’t have been left to career employees in Cincinnati. The IRS needed clearer rules coming from the top. But the top didn’t know what to do with these 501(c)4s, in part because it feared a situation precisely like this one.

It is worth remembering an important fact here: The IRS is supposed to reject groups that are primarily political from registering as 501(c)4s. If they’re going to do that, then they need some kind of test that helps them flag problematic applicants. And that test will have to be a bit impressionistic. It will mean taking the political rhetoric of the moment and watching for it in applications. It will require digging into the finances and activities of groups on the left and the right that seem to be political even as they’re promising their activities are primarily non-political.

If we’re not comfortable with that, then we need to either loosen the definition of 501(c)4s or create a new designation that gives explicitly political groups the benefits of the 501(c)4s (namely, they don’t have to pay taxes and they can keep their donors anonymous). But either way, as I wrote on Friday, the only way to make sure this doesn’t keep happening is for the IRS — or the Congress and White House that control it — to make some tough decisions about 501(c)4s.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:07 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why Did the IRS Target Conservative Groups?
Now, maybe 501(c) organizations are a big scam and don't promote social welfare and we should get rid of them, as I've seen some columnists complain. But this doesn't actually seem like the right time to have that conversation. Rather, it seems like a distraction from the fact that IRS employees decided that groups which advocated for smaller government were somehow specially untrustworthy, and acted on this opinion by singling them out for extra bureaucratic hassles. This is hugely disturbing, and right now our focus should be on making sure it doesn't happen again, not reforming the laws governing tax-exempt organizations.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:12 AM on May 13, 2013


My takeaway is that groups actively involved with lobbying for or against legislation are not allowed to be 501(c)4s. And the other takeaway is that the Sierra Club is uncommonly honest and above board.

My understanding is that 4s are allowed to lobby for specific causes and concerns, but not particular politicians or parties. They must be about issues, not groups.

The IRS should not be apologizing. It should be releasing evidence showing these right wing outfits are indeed at least fudging the 501c3 and 501c4 rules. Because I'm pretty sure they are. I've spotted some of these outfits claiming 501c3 and actively lobbying and supporting candidates, and I'm an idiot about tax law. They send me e-mails (why, I don't know - I think one of my conservative buddies is poking at me), and I notified the IRS tip line about one particularly egregious outfit.


The issue is that they are using partisan seeming shortcuts rather than a single standard. They are prejudicing certain groups because of their name, not unlike taking two church applications and sorting them into "easy" and "scrutinize heavily" piles because one is "The Catholic Parish of St. Mary" and the other is "Reverend Foster's New East Side Missionary Baptist Church of Detroit".

It is institutional sloppiness. It's bad not just because it adds extra scrutiny to some groups, but because it defocuses on the goal and can allow more nebulous things to slip through.

I personally don't believe anyone was doing this from a partisan sock-it-to-them, go-Obama standpoint, but just that all too human failure of grouping and prejudicing.

Maybe the tea party groups deserve the extra scrutiny, but that's not the IRS's job. Their job is to take every application, analyze it, and approve or disapprove it. Same scrutiny for everyone.
posted by gjc at 6:17 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Joe Klein in Time Magazine
The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups is outrageous. Those who did this should be fired immediately. That’s obvious.

...

Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. And the President should know this: the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence. His unwillingness to concentrate — and I mean concentrate obsessively — on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.

Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:38 AM on May 13, 2013


I personally don't believe anyone was doing this from a partisan sock-it-to-them, go-Obama standpoint, but just that all too human failure of grouping and prejudicing.

I just used this source to yank a chain or 2 (and it was the top linked google pick and I didn't feel like finding a different link that would not be dismissed as partisan):
Back in May 2009, Professor Glenn Reynolds, better known to his followers as Instapundit, penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he discussed some odd rhetoric from President Obama. Obama had been refused an honorary doctorate by Arizona State University, and Obama remarked, “President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS.”

Maybe the tea party groups deserve the extra scrutiny

Part of the bargain here is these are getting a public benefit for a public purpose. So lets start having the books open to the public. Right now anyone can go to Guidestar.org and read what has been filed. Find where reality != what's published and (try to) turn it over to your local Grand Jury. Work for that 'justice' VS expecting someone else to do that.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:44 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government.

Geez, IRS, if only your Commissioner was appointed by a Republican President, an official (who is a apparently a Democrat if that makes a difference) stopped this as soon as they learned about it, you got your Inspector General on the case, and in all ways functioned better and more transparently than your direct predecessor, whom I will studiously avoid mentioning! What do you mean you did all that? I have an article to write and a position to push, I can't be bothered to do research and provide facts!

Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.

Yes, Obama is exactly like Nixon when it comes to the IRS. Except for, y'know, Nixon's administration not only having full knowledge but being the source of the pressure on the IRS, and the commissioner of the IRS vehemently opposing Nixon at risk to his own job, neither of which is in evidence at all here.

So, actually, not at all like Nixon. But let a thousand conspiracy theories bloom!
posted by zombieflanders at 6:55 AM on May 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


The issue is that they are using partisan seeming shortcuts rather than a single standard.

You know, when you register as "The Tea Party" for an organization that is forbidden to participate in party politics, it just might be a clue. Of course it appears to be partisan targeting because they are operating illegally as partisan organizations. How could it not be about partisanship? You can't just use "partisanship" as a get out of jail free card. Certain forms of partisanship are illegal.

Again, people are mistaking the issue. It isn't about tax exemption because there are no profits to tax. It is about people illegally and secretly donating millions of dollars to party politics to support particular candidates without disclosing the donors and the amount of the donations. This is about election transparency. This is about the corruption of the electoral process.

That is the reason for asking them to disclose their donors. They can register as a legal 527 and participate directly in the elections if they disclose their donors. Instead, they wanted to secretly influence elections as a fake 501(c) which is illegal.
posted by JackFlash at 7:39 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


The IRS and the Ongoing (C)4 Fiasco
[T]his subject provides a context in which sober-sounding GOP solons just concerned with reining in “abuses of authority” can make common cause with the completely unhinged conservative fringe groups and personalities who have all along argued the Obama administration was preparing concentration camps for them and getting ready to shut down the churches.

And indeed, to those uninterested in nuances, the headlines about the IRS sound legitimately terrifying to those disposed to think of the current administration as quasi-totalitarian.

I’ve always thought the deliberate use of the IRS against “political enemies” was the one unambiguously impeachable offense committed by Richard Nixon, worst than most of the acts that came to be known as “Watergate” put together. If there was any evidence the Obama White House similarly instructed the taxman to go after conservatives as “enemies,” I’d be outraged, too.

But anyone actually interested in facts has to acknowledge that what seems to have been going on in the Cincinnati field office of the IRS that was giving special scrutiny to “anti-government” applicants for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization status is a frantic finger-in-the-dike effort to stem a massive expansion of (c)(4) activity that was threatening to transform American politics.
[...]
But let’s remember who the “victims” are here: not regular conservative folk who are suddenly going to see IRS auditors on their doorsteps, but political operatives trying to move large sums of money across a political chessboard to influence elections. If anything, as Ezra says, the “scandal” here is that the IRS didn’t go after the really big targets:
But the particular bias people are angry about is the opposite of the bias they should be angry about. The problem wasn’t that the IRS was skeptical of tea party groups registering as 501(c)4s. It’s that it hasn’t been skeptical of Organizing for America, Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA and Heritage Action Fund registering as 501(c)4s. The IRS should be treating all these groups equally and appropriately — which would mean much more harshly.

Instead, the IRS has permitted 501(c)4s to grow into something monstrous. And if they cower in the aftermath of this embarrassment, it might make matters even worse.
So it would be nice if we could have a serious discussion of the abuse of tax exemptions to make it easier to pour obscene amounts of anonymous money into vicious and stupid campaign ads aimed at boosting the profits of the anonymous sources paying for them. But in part because this is a hopelessly technical subject, we are instead going to have a “debate” (and endless down-in-the-weeds “investigations”) of IRS abuses.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:43 AM on May 13, 2013


You know, when you register as "The Tea Party" for an organization that is forbidden to participate in party politics, it just might be a clue.

You are aware that the "Tea Party" is not actually a political party, right?
posted by BobbyVan at 7:57 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You are aware that the "Tea Party" is not actually a political party, right?

Oh, really? Tell that to the Tea Party candidates that ran as members of the Tea Party. If your organization puts up candidates for election and promotes those candidates with money, then you are a political party. That is illegal as a 501(c).
posted by JackFlash at 8:05 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Marco Rubio Calls on Non-Existent IRS Commissioner To Resign
Senator Marco Rubio has sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (full text below the fold) in which he says "I strongly urge that you and President Obama demand the IRS Commissioner’s resignation, effectively immediately." It's perhaps a sign of how interested in the details of this matter Rubio is that there in fact is no IRS commissioner at present. The last IRS Commissioner, Douglas Shulman, was appointed by George W. Bush in March of 2008 and resigned in November. It seems unlikely that this Republican appointee was engineering an inquiry Tea Party groups' tax status for partisan reasons and even if Shulman is to blame he can't resign because he's . . . already resigned.

The problems Republicans seem to be having with the IRS scandal is that the misconduct in question is so clearly misconduct that nobody is defending it or covering it up. For partisan purposes, it'd be better to have an ongoing controversy than to have the matter settled promptly and correctly. So they need to pick a fight. But there's no fight to be picked over Obama's IRS Commissioner because Obama doesn't have an IRS Commissioner. Perhaps the best critique of the administration one can make here is that they ought to appoint an IRS Commissioner. Senate Republicans have been monstrously uncooperative about confirming Obama's appointees, but Obama's been scandalously slow in actually putting people forward.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:06 AM on May 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


The problems Republicans seem to be having with the IRS scandal is that the misconduct in question is so clearly misconduct that nobody is defending it or covering it up.

Huh.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:08 AM on May 13, 2013


I don't doubt that a lot of the Tea Party orgs were breaking the law.

And what they're going to do is double down on their illegal behaviour. They'll scream and fuss and bluster, they'll make grandiose claims, they'll lie and obfuscate.

And in the end, they'll get away with having blatantly broken the law, because the IRS isn't going to double down on their own behaviour. No, the IRS will flinch, some manager will be sacrificed to calm the waters, and the next time around, the Tea Partys will be even more flagrant in their law-breaking.

Until the good start to get serious about prosecuting the bad, the bad will continue to abuse the system.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:12 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, really? Tell that to the Tea Party candidates that ran as members of the Tea Party. If your organization puts up candidates for election and promotes those candidates with money, then you are a political party. That is illegal as a 501(c).

Do you have any links or documents to that effect? The overwhelming majority of "Tea Party"-backed candidates ran as Republicans. I'd guess that a few ran as Libertarians or Independents also.

[And if you're going to make confident declarations about what is or is not "illegal," it might be useful for you to disclose whether you are a lawyer or otherwise an expert in non-profits.]
posted by BobbyVan at 8:15 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


the Tea Partys will be even more flagrant in their law-breaking.

Do feel free to point out the laws broken in the application process.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:17 AM on May 13, 2013


If your organization puts up candidates for election and promotes those candidates with money, then you are a political party. That is illegal as a 501(c).

This is not how it works. You have to distinguish "Tea Party" as a movement and "Tea Party" as particular organizations.

Look at groups like the Women Voices Women Vote Action Fund to see how 501(c)(4) groups support a particular agenda:
The Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund (WVWVAF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501 (c)(4) organization founded in 2005 and dedicated to increasing the voting participation and issue advocacy of unmarried women.
...
Unmarried women are the largest part of the RAE and they were major drivers behind progressive victories in 2006 and 2008. They could do it again in 2012 — if they show up to vote their progressive values in numbers that represent their growing demographic strength. ...
...
Increasing the number of unmarried women and other progressives who register, turnout and participate in our democracy and our government is the primary goal of WVWVAF. To that end, the Action Fund uses innovative, research-driven voter education, get out the vote and advocacy programs, advertising and messaging to engage and provide unmarried women with access to the ballot and information that gives them a stake in the outcome of political debates and elections.
And in fact, contrary to what you wrote:

You know, when you register as "The Tea Party" for an organization that is forbidden to participate in party politics, it just might be a clue.

501(c)(4) organizations are allowed to participate in party politics as I pointed out above.

The Tea Party is not actually a party.
posted by Jahaza at 8:26 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Times has uploaded the portion of the inspector general's report that is coming out this week that was leaked to the press. It contains a comprehensive timeline [PDF] of events (albeit partially redacted).
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:29 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


501(c)(4) organizations are allowed to participate in party politics as I pointed out above.

Why am I not surprised that in your selective quote, you failed to include the immediately proceeding sentence "The promotion of social welfare does not include participation in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any political candidate."

The Republican Party is terrified of the Tea Party. In many cases the Tea Party primaried the official Republican Party candidates and defeated them. The Tea Party not only intervened, they actively provided their own candidates -- and they won. They can do that as a 527 organization and disclose their donors. They cannot do that secretly and anonymously with hidden money.
posted by JackFlash at 8:47 AM on May 13, 2013


The IRS Controversy and the Tax-Exempt Charade
If what we've heard so far holds up, the people involved should probably get fired, and new safeguards should be put in place to make sure nothing like it happens again. And let it be noted that liberal publications, at least the ones I've seen, have all taken that position and have been discussing this story at length.

Now, let's see if we can understand the context in which this happened. There's an irony at work here, which is that it may well be that the IRS employees involved were trying to obey the spirit of the law but ended up violating the letter of the law, while for the organizations in question it was the opposite: they were trying to violate the spirit of the law, but probably didn't violate the letter of the law.

Let's take the first part, the IRS employees. When a group files for tax-exempt status, the IRS investigates it, asks it some questions, and determines whether it qualifies under section 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4). The difference between them is that a 501(c)(3) is supposed to be a genuine charity, like your local food bank or Institute for the Study of Foot Fungus, while a 501(c)(4) is still primarily devoted to "social welfare" but is allowed more leeway to engage in some political activities like lobbying and participation in elections, so long as the political activities make up a minority of its time. The biggest practical difference is that donations to (c)(3) groups are tax-deductible, while donations to (c)(4) groups are not.

Once the Supreme Court said in the 2010 Citizens United decision that (c)(4) groups could engage in "express advocacy" (i.e. explicitly saying "Vote for Smith!"), the IRS got flooded with new applications for (c)(4) groups, and its job was to determine if these groups were actually "social-welfare" organizations that also did some politicking on the side, or if they were groups whose main purpose was actually political, in which case, according to the law, they should be denied (c)(4) status. We know very little at this point about what the IRS employees in Cincinnati did and why, but the generous interpretation is that since so many of the applications they were getting in 2010 and 2011 were from Tea Party groups that looked a lot like their sole purpose was to elect Republicans, they looked for some way to handle them all together, so they searched for applications with words like "Tea Party" and "Patriot" in their names and subjected them to extra scrutiny.

Even if their motivations were innocent and they were just struggling to find ways to wade through all these applications and do their jobs properly—in other words, if there was no violation of the spirit of the law—it was still improper for them to sort the applications this way, because it could mean in practice that an ideological test was being applied to which groups got heightened scrutiny.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:58 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if you're going to make confident declarations about what is or is not "illegal," it might be useful for you to disclose whether you are a lawyer or otherwise an expert in non-profits.

From my experience on MetaFilter, I think you're probably safe assuming that unless such a confident declaration is explicitly tagged with "IAAL," it's coming from a sysadmin or a software engineer.
posted by cribcage at 8:59 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Rather, it seems like a distraction from the fact that IRS employees decided that groups which advocated for smaller government were somehow specially untrustworthy, and acted on this opinion by singling them out for extra bureaucratic hassles."

They were specially untrustworthy — they were new, with dubious "social welfare" claims, in the wake of a poorly understood Supreme Court decision that exploded the previous rules for political engagement for non-profits. It's like complaining about it being specially fishworthy to put your hook in during spawning season.
posted by klangklangston at 9:49 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]






Wait, who is "they" again?

The same "they" that complain about the IRS going after tax dodgers in their pet organization, while actively ignoring or excusing all the times the IRS deliberately looks the other way at tax violations by other allies of right-wing religious, social, political and media organizations. The same "they" that make hay out of Benghazi and other bullshit "scandals" that exist only because the right has figured out how to put wads of chewed gum into the gears of government when it suits them, no matter how much it poisons the whole process for the rest of us.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:39 AM on May 13, 2013


Obama scoffs at Libya outcry

Bush and His Aides Made 935 False Statements about Iraq In the 2 Years After 9/11

As I remember there was scoffing about Iraq outcry from the people in charge at that time.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:48 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]




The same "they" that complain about the IRS going after tax dodgers in their pet organization, while actively ignoring or excusing all the times the IRS deliberately looks the other way at tax violations by other allies of right-wing religious, social, political and media organizations.

I'm still not seeing too much difference between you and "them." Perhaps by not snarking or reflexively declaring certain allegations "bogus" you can more clearly distinguish yourself from the right-wing knaves who are "poisoning the whole process."
posted by BobbyVan at 1:22 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is probably FPP worthy, but including here given the obvious Nixon parallels.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department has secretly obtained two months of telephone records of journalists for The Associated Press in what AP's top executive says is an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:25 PM on May 13, 2013


IRS Data Web Snares Mostly Low- and Middle-Income Taxpayers Agency expands its robo-audits to get more personal data, but has so far only netted small change

I'd point out the reduction by 18% in the top tax payer audits but providing a link to such seems like work. But it's not like anyone cares about data mining of financial records for the tax man who if you try to walk he'll tax your feet.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:35 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow.

ProPublica: IRS Office That Targeted Tea Party Also Disclosed Confidential Docs From Conservative Groups
The same IRS office that deliberately targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the run-up to the 2012 election released nine pending confidential applications of conservative groups to ProPublica late last year.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:50 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm still not seeing too much difference between you and "them."

Clever, but Benghazi-like allegations like those contained in this post hurt America. This post hurts America, as much as GOP legislators wasting taxpayers' time and money by demanding an apology from Obama is hurting America.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:30 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


allegations like those contained in this post hurt America. This post hurts America,

USA! USA!

Right on! It's a good thing that the United States of America could never, ever suffer from any self-inflected wounds because the US of A is awesomesauce!

USA! USA! USA!

(due to the idea of harming the US of A, how many of you are now repenting having ever said anything bad about Bush II here on the Blue?)
posted by rough ashlar at 4:53 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


BobbyVan's link to ProPublica is very much worth reading. The points I found interesting were:
  1. No organisation with the words "tea party" in its name spent money on the 2012 election;
  2. Responsibility for non-profits' applications has been moved from Cincinnati to Washington, DC.;
  3. Conservative commentators reading an article published by ProPublica about government errors and indiscretions revealed by ProPublica and implying anti-conservative bias which is called-out by ProPublica deduce that ProPublica must therefore be engaged in a liberal conspiracy against them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:59 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Interesting point of context from that article, Bobby: 84 percent of the groups that applied to the IRS as political welfare organizations were conservative. That's important to keep in mind regarding whether the scrutiny was disproportionate.

(Something else that I found interesting is that the groups didn't have to apply to the IRS — they did so voluntarily, because it sometimes helps with donations.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:00 PM on May 13, 2013


Interesting point of context from that article, Bobby: 84 percent of the groups that applied to the IRS as political welfare organizations were conservative. That's important to keep in mind regarding whether the scrutiny was disproportionate.

Doesn't that make the extra scrutiny even more disproportionate? If 84% of the groups were of a conservative nature to begin with, a random flagging mechanism or a viewpoint-neutral standard would already scoop up mostly conservative groups. Why would the IRS need to pile on?
posted by BobbyVan at 5:12 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's important to keep in mind regarding whether the scrutiny was disproportionate.

And because it was not out of the ordinary - the IRS had a press conference to apologize?

How awesome is that? The IRS did something not out of the ordinary and apologized. Now,where is the hair shirts for cutting back on bank audits?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:31 PM on May 13, 2013


Because that 84% of fresh 4c tax exemption apps might suggest that there was an organized effort to defraud the American taxpayer; the "Tea Party" filter would help identify the relevant apps amid the flood. That investigative theory might also explain why analysts were interested in donor lists; the same folks showing up on the same donor and membership lists might look like donation laundering and call into question the nature of the groups as primarily engaged in "social welfare."

Nevertheless it's wrong for the same reasons racial profiling is wrong, and the IRS corrected its processes.

But as compelling as that 84 percent number is, it's irrelevant. The link does not say 84 percent of new apps were from Conservative groups. The link says 84 percent of the 4c money spent on the 2012 election came from conservative groups. The story behind that 84 percent link, however, does report:
Documents for pop-up nonprofits like the conservative America Is Not Stupid and A Better America Now, both of which formed in 2011, led back to a Florida law firm that offered no explanations. The Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund, a liberal pop-up group that spent millions on elections in 2010, closed down in 2011. In its place came a new group: the Citizens for Strength and Security Fund, which earlier this year bought almost $900,000 in ads attacking Rehberg and the Republican Senate candidate in New Mexico.
which should give as all an appreciation of the mountains of clusterfuck and fraud and deceit the Exempt Nonprofit Bureau (whatever it's called) has to climb everyday (a Florida Law Firm directing money into a Montana election via a pair of "social welfare" charities!)

And since I'm here: Ms. Lerner did not make her apologetic comments at a "press conference." She was speaking at an ABA conference.

Jeebus. I hate this stuff. It's like Benghazi. Let's take the least charitable interpretation of events and statements possible, strip out all the context, introduce confused or misleading details, then scream "Worse Than Nixon!" as loud as we can.
posted by notyou at 6:14 PM on May 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


The Justice Department has secretly obtained two months of telephone records of journalists for The Associated Press in what AP's top executive says is an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering.

More on this story: DOJ Goes Nuclear on Goldman and Apuzzo

“A Full Two Month Period” that Covers John Brennan’s Entire Drone Propaganda Campaign
posted by homunculus at 6:58 PM on May 13, 2013




Shame, because now's about the best time to actually clarify the rules.
posted by klangklangston at 9:48 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


If ProPublica's is correct in saying that no organisation with the words "tea party" in its name spent money on the 2012 election then the IRS's silly key-word strategy meant that it went after many organisations that did not spend "dark money", while ignoring most of the ones which did.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:02 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just 55 Questions, Ma’am
How the IRS just handed the Tea Party its biggest victory yet.

The article links to a letter [PDF] sent to one "Tea Party" group. I can't see how any organisation that has been operating for more than a few years could possibly answer these questions. In fact, I don't see how any organisation could or should answer this one:
List each past or present board member, officer, key employee and members of their families who:
a) Has served on the board of another organisation.
b) Was, is or plans to be a candidate for public office. Indicate the nature of each candidacy.
c) Has previously conducted similar activities for another entity.
d) Has previously submitted an application for tax exempt status.
The letter does not explain how the "Liberty Township Tea Party" is expected to be able to state "under penalties of perjury" whether, say, the husband of a former financial officer is planning to run for office - which includes things like road construction committees and school boards. This letter was apparently not an isolated instance: other conservative organisations report similar treatment, as well as what can only be interpreted as a deliberately slow response by the IRS.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:27 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]




I think "acting" IRS Commissioner Steven Miller will be described as "former" Commissioner Miller in the not too distant future.

WSJ: Chiefs at IRS Knew of Targeting
The IRS said in a statement that acting Commissioner Steven Miller was first told by the agency staff on May 3, 2012, that some specific groups' applications for tax-exempt status were improperly selected for extra scrutiny based on their names.

But two top GOP lawmakers said Mr. Miller, who was named to the top IRS post in November, didn't disclose the problems in subsequent letters sent to them—even as they and other congressional Republicans had raised questions about IRS scrutiny of tea-party groups' applications for tax-exempt status. Mr. Miller couldn't be reached for comment on Monday.
Acting Commissioner Miller in USA Today: "Mistakes were made..."

Rubio Calls On IRS Commissioner To Resign
posted by BobbyVan at 5:20 AM on May 14, 2013


Washington Post: IRS officials in Washington were involved in targeting of conservative groups
Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations, while officials in the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent similar questionnaires to tea-party-affiliated groups, the documents show.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:11 AM on May 14, 2013


Washington Post: IRS officials in Washington were involved in targeting of conservative groups

OMG, has the WaPo always been so deceptive?

From the body of the article:
Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status,
Headline:
IRS officials in Washington were involved in targeting of conservative groups
I'll confess that I'm not going to read the whole thing, but all I'm seeing is accusations of targeting from People I Tend Not To Believe. I'll apologize to the WaPo if there was any substantive evidence for the headline claim buried in the article.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:36 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]




Did anyone else here the Commisioner of the IRS say on national news: "I'm not good at math."? Does that strike anyone else as... telling?
posted by Colossus, Inc. at 2:22 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else here the Commisioner of the IRS say on national news: "I'm not good at math."? Does that strike anyone else as... telling?

It struck me as sarcastic.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:40 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It struck me as sarcastic.

Yeah, I can see that now. I was probably letting my imagination run away, a bit.
posted by Colossus, Inc. at 2:53 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The IRS report: Insubordination and incompetence, but not much of a conspiracy
Unless significant further evidence comes out, however, this doesn’t look like the rot went particularly deep. The most cynical interpretation of the facts of the case laid out by the IG are that a group of mid-level IRS employees created a politically motivated screening process for 501(c)(4) applications. They were stopped, twice, by IRS management, and procedures were put in place to ensure they couldn’t do anything like it again. The employees failed, but the system seems to have worked, though not before a lot of groups received some pretty shabby treatment.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:20 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sympathy For The Taxman
posted by homunculus at 6:32 PM on May 14, 2013




I'm not done reading the rather long article linked above by rough ashlar, but I'm already a bit, shall we say, concerned.

Starting this year, the IRS tools will be able to track all credit card transactions, for starters. The agency has also instructed agents on using online sources such as social media and e-commerce sites including eBay, as well as the rich data generated by mobile devices. In one controversial disclosure in April, the ACLU showed documents in which the IRS general counsel said the agency could look at emails without warrants, but the IRS has said it will not use this power.

How magnanimous of them to vow not to use their apparently legal power to read our emails without warrants.
posted by MoTLD at 6:54 PM on May 14, 2013


From the ProPublica link BobbyVan provided:

On Nov. 15, 2012, ProPublica requested the applications of 67 nonprofits, all of which had spent money on the 2012 elections. (Because no social welfare groups with Tea Party in their names spent money on the election, ProPublica did not at that point request their applications. We had requested the Tea Party applications earlier, after the groups first complained about being singled out by the IRS. In response, the IRS said it could find no record of the tax-exempt status of those groups — typically how it responds to requests for unapproved applications.)

Does ProPublica make a habit of requesting applications for groups they know not to have yet been approved, perhaps in hopes of the IRS making precisely this mistake?

Note, also, that ProPublica "made six of those public, after redacting their financial information, deeming that they were newsworthy," despite apparently knowing they were never supposed to have gotten them in the first place.
posted by MoTLD at 7:13 PM on May 14, 2013


USA Today: IRS approved liberal groups while Tea Party in limbo
WASHINGTON -- 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.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:29 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Funny how Republicans are so gung ho about law enforcement, except when it's the IRS. In that case they're willing to make shit up and lie about the law under which the IRS operates so they can further kneecap them. God forbid rich people actually get caught when they try to evade taxation.

Why on Earth would the IRS want to scrutinize ostensibly nonpolitical organizations that choose overtly political names and provide details about the overtly political purposes the organization's management intends to pursue. Apparently cops should be legally required to be idiots in some people's estimation.
posted by wierdo at 9:10 PM on May 14, 2013


wierdo, have you been following the discussion so far? Because the "ostensibly nonpolitical organizations" thing got covered pretty early on.
posted by MoTLD at 9:17 PM on May 14, 2013


Ostensibly not engaged in politics as its primary purpose. To qualify as a 501(c)4, your organization cannot have electioneering or other political purposes as its primary line of work. If you or anyone else seriously considers it unreasonable to scrutinize applications that have red flags like the name of a specific political movement being included in the organization's name more closely than those that do not, I can only assume you're shilling for those who want to see the government rendered incapable of collecting tax.

That's how unreasonable the position the Republican zeitgeist has taken in my view. There is no logic or reason there.
posted by wierdo at 9:25 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently cops should be legally required to be idiots in some people's estimation.

This is the exact argument used in favor of authorizing police officers to conduct racial profiling, and it has the same merits and flaws in that context as in this one.
posted by cribcage at 9:28 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but it's not. Racial profiling involves discriminating against certain people because of the color of their skin.

This involves discriminating against certain groups because they are saying, in effect, "hey I might be breaking the law". Sort of like filling out a firearms background check and writing that you want it for self defense and oh by the way also because you might want to rob a bank sometime.

Now, if it were to be found that only organizations with names referencing conservative political movements were targeted, that's wrong on the basis that the policy was applied in a discriminatory way. That has not been shown to be the case, IIRC. Regardless, the underlying policy of investigating groups applying for a status that requires they not be primarily political yet have political sounding names undergo greater scrutiny is not only reasonable, but arguably necessary.
posted by wierdo at 10:43 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty familiar with firearms registration in several states, and I have never seen an application that read, "Oh by the way I might want to rob a bank sometime." I'd gently suggest that analogies tend to be more effective when grounded in reality; otherwise they tend to sound less edifying and more like bad-faith characterization.

It's entirely possible that liberal groups were being targeted equally alongside conservative groups. But since the IRS has admitted that conservative criteria were used and hasn't (yet) identified any corresponding liberal criteria, it seems curious to assume treatment was equal.

That aside, I think your original analogy to "cops" rings true in one key respect: What's being alleged is essentially police misconduct. And from that analogy I'd make two points. Like any other instance of police misconduct, we wouldn't assume that just because a few patrolmen were conducting profiling, the commissioner necessarily knew what was happening. We would demand their termination, not his. However, the moment that corruption takes one single step up the chain—for instance, a patrol sergeant who became aware of the profiling and approved it—there's suddenly a very reasonable buck-stops-here argument why the fellow at the top needs to go.
posted by cribcage at 11:12 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Champaign Tea Party

Champaign for my Tea Party; T-Pain for my sham party.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:45 PM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


bad-faith characterization

Changing your name to "D. B. Cooper" or "Nicholas Trainor" or something like that before applying for a firearms license or filling out a background check might be a better analogy but it really doesn't seem like too much of a mischaracterization to me. As I pointed out above, these organizations named themselves and their movement after an illegal anti-tax protest (that would be illegal today, too) and then applied for tax-exempt status in droves.

At the very least I think it would not be very reasonable to expect to be treated exactly the same way a youth sports league or a soup kitchen applying for 501(c)4 status would be, any more than you could be a passenger on an airplane and tell a joke about being a terrorist or a drug mule, etc., or wear a t-shirt to that effect and expect to only experience the same delays as everyone else.
posted by XMLicious at 11:48 PM on May 14, 2013


XMLicious, are you saying its right that we can't wear a t-shirt with a drug mule joke in an airport without expecting a little extra...inconvenience?
posted by MoTLD at 11:53 PM on May 14, 2013


Well, yes. You're explicitly giving cause for increased scrutiny if you wear a t-shirt that says "I am a drug mule" anywhere someone, possibly many people, would lose their jobs if a drug mule wearing such a t-shirt successfully smuggled drugs through. It's like signing up for a MeFi account with the username "ImaSpammer" and expecting people to not look more closely or express more skepticism in response to posts praising particular products.

I'm not saying it's any sort of good preventative measure to scrutinize people who appear to be volunteering such information but you are literally suggesting that people treat you as though you're a smuggler if you wear a t-shirt saying so. Unless everyone else has Stephen-Colbert-vision.
posted by XMLicious at 12:14 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


USA Today reports: IRS gave liberals a pass; Tea Party groups put on hold
WASHINGTON -- In the 27 months that the Internal Revenue Service put a hold on all Tea Party applications for non-profit status, it approved applications from similar liberal groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows.

As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with obviously liberal names were approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like "Progress" or "Progressive," these groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.

The controversial, 3-year-old strategy to manage the increasing number of political groups seeking tax-exempt status came under fire Tuesday. The agency's own inspector general blamed IRS leadership for "ineffective management."
The objective data seems to suggest partisan bias at work.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:25 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rep. Levin Calls For Dismissal Of Senior IRS Officials
Speaking on MSNBC on Wednesday morning, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, called for the ouster of Steven Miller, the Internal Revenue Service's acting commissioner, and Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS’ tax-exempt organizations division.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:43 AM on May 15, 2013


Why do you all keep linking to The Rude Pundit, a professor of drama, about all this? He loves drama, I would suppose. He's some national authority on bureaucratic procedures now?
posted by raysmj at 6:44 AM on May 15, 2013


Only in bizarro political fantasy fantasy land is 'progress' a marker for politics. 'Progressive,' on the other hand, is plausibly used mainly as a political marker.

But then I'm not at all surprised that people would draw false equivalencies like that, because the point is actually to defang the IRS. A better comparison would have been to an application that referred to Democrats, Occupy Wall , or similar. That's McPaper for you.
posted by wierdo at 8:16 AM on May 15, 2013


It's not like the word "patriot" is exclusive property of the right either.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:35 AM on May 15, 2013


IRS cases 'included organizations of all political views'
USA Today had an item today on the IRS controversy, which seemed to reinforce much of what we already know: conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status faced unfair and unreasonable scrutiny. But deep in the article, in the 18th paragraph, USA Today added seven unexpected words: "Some liberal groups did get additional scrutiny."

They did? Actually, yes.
The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.

One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.

Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.
In fact, it's worth emphasizing that the IRS, which has acknowledged making mistakes in this area and offered an awkward apology for agency missteps, noted yesterday that the "organizations of all political views" were affected by the scrutiny.

This certainly seems relevant to the larger controversy, doesn't it? Up until now, the story has been pretty straightforward: conservative groups were subjected to unfair treatment when applying for tax-exempt 501(c)4 status. The IRS must remain politically neutral at all times and the right was fully justified in complaining that the agency fell far short of this standard.

But if several liberal groups were subjected to the same treatment, it reinforces a larger, less-partisan arc to the story: the IRS struggled to enforce ambiguous tax laws and was beset by bureaucratic bungling. The ratios certainly matter -- if only a handful of left-leaning groups faced tough scrutiny, while right-wing leaning groups fared far worse, that would point to a more systemic problem -- but we don't yet know that for sure.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:49 AM on May 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


The bad news:
The Obama administration is just like the Bush administration.

The good news:
...happening in reverse sequential order.

Soon to be followed by the Clinton administration. (Again.)
posted by markkraft at 9:42 AM on May 15, 2013


It might sound like everything is fair because three liberal groups were also scrutinized. Unless they were subjected to that scrutiny because of their names, however, it's not applicable.
posted by MoTLD at 9:48 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


And let me add that if they were, it's every bit as bad!
posted by MoTLD at 9:51 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


And let me add that if they were, it's every bit as bad!

Right, because the real tragedy here is the shitty techniques for investigation; not the deregulation of major portions of political and tax law that should, technically, be under at least one other agency (the FEC), which was cheered on by groups like this and led to them being 84% of an sharp rise in the workload of an agency they've been pushing (quite successfully) to be less efficient where a shortcut was found to identify possible suspects--who, let's not forget, were only 25% of the cases, and none of whom lost their status, unlike at least 4 progressive group--that has been in more transparent, less political, and in every single way a major improvement over the last several decades' worth of administrations.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


zombieflanders, double-check your facts there. According to the article you linked, only one of those progressive groups actually got their status revoked. The others were investigated and approved.

The real tragedy is not that some low-level IRS guy in Cincinnati came up with a boneheaded way to flag possibly overly political social welfare groups, but that when the higher-ups found out, they didn't immediately disclose it and in fact may have lied to Congress about it. If this whole thing was disclosed right from the start we wouldn't have to hear about it every day for the next four years.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:17 AM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]




The real IRS scandal
Conservatives contend that this is still an anti-conservative screen. It sounds perfectly neutral to me, unless someone knows of a conservative organization devoted to "expanding government," or unless right-wing groups are supposed to have a monopoly on "social economic reform." In any case, the inspector general found that most of the 298 selected applications indeed showed indications of "significant" political activity that might have made them ineligible for the tax exemption.

It's about time the IRS subjected all of these outfits to scrutiny. The agency's inaction has served the purposes of donors and political organizations on both sides of the aisle, and contributed to the explosive infection of the electoral process by big money from individuals and corporations.

Nor is Congress innocent. The lawmakers have dodged their responsibility to make the rules crystal clear. On the rare occasions when the IRS has tried gingerly to impose regulatory order, members of Congress have forced the agency to back off. There should be a rule in Washington that if you give regulators deliberately vague guidelines, you're not allowed to protest when they try to figure out where the lines are.

Thanks to ambiguity about what it means to be "primarily" concerned with "social welfare," political activists have reaped a bonanza for years while the IRS ignored their chicanery. And once again, now that the agency has tried to regulate, the regulated parties have blown its efforts up into a "scandal." It's amusing to reflect that some politicians making hay over this are the same people who contend that we don't need more regulations, we just need to enforce the ones we have. (Examples: gun control and banking regulation.) Here's a case where the IRS is trying to enforce regulations that Congress enacted, and it's still somehow doing the wrong thing.

Keep that in mind when you hear politicians — and they're not exclusively Republicans — grandstanding about how the IRS actions are "chilling" or "un-American." It turns out that none of the "targeted" groups actually was denied C4 status. Nevertheless, says Sheila Krumholz, director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "There's a sense of discomfort that the IRS was doing much of anything."
Interesting note: This column comes from the LA Times, which is in the process of being bought up by the Koch Brothers, who in turn were amongst the biggest cheerleaders of the Citizens United decision that made all of this possible (and by extension made the IRS' job a million times more difficult), and this reporting is unlikely to continue under their watch. This couldn't be ending up better for them than if they had planned it themselves.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:44 AM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


It turns out that none of the "targeted" groups actually was denied C4 status.

That's disingenuous. I've read multiple accounts that groups abandoned their applications because of the rigorous process that was being imposed. And that's something we do in bureaucracy—create hoop after hoop, higher and narrower, to winnow the pool.
posted by cribcage at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's disingenuous. I've read multiple accounts that groups abandoned their applications because of the rigorous process that was being imposed. And that's something we do in bureaucracy—create hoop after hoop, higher and narrower, to winnow the pool.

Notes on a Trumped Up Scandal (emphasis mine)
It turns out that the applications the conservative groups submitted to the IRS—the ones the agency subsequently combed over, provoking nonstop howling—were unnecessary. The IRS doesn’t require so-called 501c4 organizations to apply for tax-exempt status. If anyone wants to start a social welfare group, they can just do it, then submit the corresponding tax return (form 990) at the end of the year. To be sure, the IRS certainly allows groups to apply for tax-exempt status if they want to make their status official. But the application is completely voluntary, making it a strange basis for an alleged witch hunt.

So why would so many Tea Party groups subject themselves to a lengthy and needless application process? Mostly it had to do with anxiety—the fear that they could run afoul of the law once they started raising and spending money. “Our business experience was that we had to pay taxes once there was money coming through here,” says Tom Zawistowski, the recent president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, which tangled with the IRS over its tax status. “We felt we were under a microscope. … We were on pins and needles at all times.” In other words, the groups submitted their applications because they perceived themselves to be persecuted, not because they actually were.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:07 PM on May 15, 2013


TL;DR: "Disingenuous?" You guys keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:09 PM on May 15, 2013


Congressional Republicans: Against politicization of the IRS before they were for it.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2013


It turns out that none of the "targeted" groups actually was denied C4 status.

That's disingenuous. I've read multiple accounts that groups abandoned their applications because of the rigorous process that was being imposed. And that's something we do in bureaucracy—create hoop after hoop, higher and narrower, to winnow the pool.

"Disingenuous?" You guys keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


Well, disingenuous means lacking in candor; also : giving a false appearance of simple frankness : calculating.

What word would you suggest?
posted by MoTLD at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2013


The "tl;dr" and Princess Bride things are cute but tired. And I'm just me. I don't belong to any "you guys" group. I'm honestly not sure who else you're envisioning me grouped with, because (1) my comment is the first instance of the word "disingenuous," and (2) I was responding to something written by Michael Hiltzik of the L.A. Times. Maybe you see this thread as a tit-for-tat between "you guys" and "us guys," but I see a lot of comments expressing a lot of different opinions and that's far more interesting to me. That's the conversation I'd rather have.

In any case, I'm familiar with the word. It's the one I meant.
posted by cribcage at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re: disingenuous, I was confusing this thread with another I had open. But it still stands that I don't see where anyone was being disingenuous. The hoops weren't getting higher and narrower, and the pool wasn't being winnowed, because the "rigorous process" was voluntary and seems to come from a place of paranoia rather than any sort of onerous imposition.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:48 PM on May 15, 2013


The fact that the process was voluntary is inherent to the point that bureaucratic tactics were used to discourage applicants. That would be incompatible with compulsory process.
posted by cribcage at 12:53 PM on May 15, 2013


Anybody know what happens to a group that skips this technically voluntary process when they do eventually file the 990 out of the blue at the end of the year?

It's also voluntary to answer most of an officer's questions when you aren't under arrest. Try it some time!
posted by MoTLD at 1:06 PM on May 15, 2013


The fact that the process was voluntary is inherent to the point that bureaucratic tactics were used to discourage applicants. That would be incompatible with compulsory process.

It's almost as if this could have been avoided by conservatives on SCOTUS not imposing sweeping deregulation over the political process and forcing it on the one agency in the government least appropriate for handling it and whom their ideological allies in Congress are intent on making as inefficient as possible. Like I said, this couldn't have gone better for conservative groups had they actually planned it to turn out exactly like this.

In any case, the bureaucratic tactics are irrelevant, because the applicants would be 501c4 and tax-exempt anyway.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2013


David Cay Johnston: The other IRS scandal
posted by wierdo at 1:19 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that any claim that these groups were targetted for political reasons is evidence that they were political organizations and so not eligible for the status.
posted by empath at 1:32 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anybody know what happens to a group that skips this technically voluntary process when they do eventually file the 990 out of the blue at the end of the year?

Nothing happens. It is just an income tax return filed just like 100 million other income tax returns filed each year. The IRS can later chose to audit or not to audit any tax return. An organization never needs clearance from the IRS to file a 501(c)(4) tax return. The U.S. tax system is based on voluntary reporting. The IRS can chose to audit any return if it thinks it is based on fraudulent information. Otherwise, the return is simply accepted as is.

Keep in mind that taxation isn't the issue here. If a tax return is audited and if the 501(c)(4) status is rejected, they would simply have to file their taxes as a different organization, for example a partnership or corporation or 527. Since these organizations have no profits, they would have little or no taxes due. They would just have to file their forms differently and still pay no taxes.

At issue is election transparency. If 501(c)(4) status is refused, then they would be required to disclose the amount and names of their donors. That is what they are afraid of. They want to have it both ways, direct support of candidates in elections and secrecy about who is paying for it. That is illegal electioneering.

They could have avoided all of these problems by simply filing as a 527 tax-exempt non-profit organization, which, by law, can spend unlimited amounts of money on any candidate they chose. However, that requires disclosing their funding sources which is what they were trying to hide.
posted by JackFlash at 1:32 PM on May 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


At issue is election transparency. If 501(c)(4) status is refused, then they would be required to disclose the amount and names of their donors.

I think this is the crux of the issue.

It is not voluntary to file for 501(c)4 status if an org wants to do 501(c)4 activities while guaranteeing to its contributors that their names will remain private.
posted by MoTLD at 1:38 PM on May 15, 2013


If you want to keep donors names private, then don't spend the donations on illegal electioneering.
posted by JackFlash at 1:44 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think election transparency is the crux of the issue. It may be the crux of the exemption, but that enlarges the issue into a whole separate conversation. What happened here appears to have been an abuse of process, nothing more or less.

There are myriad analogies, simply because we do this kind of thing so often. Filing a civil suit in federal court, for instance, is voluntary. But if you file, you'd better know the system is set up to discourage you from going very far. There are still courts left where the foundational concept is to give litigants their "day in court," but not in many federal courts. In federal court, the hoops will indeed get higher and narrower to coerce you into resolving your claim. The system disfavors allowing cases to reach trial.

Smart people disagree whether this is good. Maybe it should be rigorously difficult to obtain 501(c) status. But smart people are unanimous that doing it disproportionately is exponentially more difficult to defend, and therefore usually bad. The truthful explanation might be, "We saw an uptick of worrisome applications from conservative groups that for whatever reason wasn't mirrored by a corresponding increase in liberal applications"—but the problem is, that's transparently indistinguishable (or at least, nearly so) from, "Everybody in that office had an Obama sticker and we were sick of hearing about Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann."
posted by cribcage at 2:04 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it should be rigorously difficult to obtain 501(c) status.

It is trivially easy to start a 501(c)(4). You just send out your mailers and email spam soliciting donations and you are in business. At the end of the year, you file your tax return on Form 990 and you are done. That's it. As long as you follow the law, there is nothing more you have to do. You never have to talk to the IRS -- ever.

Now, if you want to get the IRS to bless your operation in advance, that's another matter. You are going to have to give the IRS a lot of information for them to make a ruling, in advance, that what you plan to do, whatever it is, in the future, is legal.

But this isn't really difficult. Organizations like Move On and the ACLU are simply split into two separate operations. One half is a 501(c)(4) and does policy work. The other half is a 527 and does election work. Donations to the two halves are kept separate. The 527 donations are made public.

So it's really simple. If you want a 501 organization with secret donations, don't do anything that approaches the line of illegal electioneering. If you want to do something more political, then do that through a 527 and public disclosure.

As long as these Tea Party operations were not doing electioneering, then they had nothing to fear. They did not need the blessing of the IRS. There was nothing preventing them from operating from day one. If, on the other hand, they anticipated doing something shady, like secret electioneering, then they rightfully were hesitant to do that without prior IRS approval.
posted by JackFlash at 2:28 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obama just announced the resignation of the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 3:29 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sucks to give a minor political victory to someone like Rubio but it probably had to be done. Hopefully the confirmation of a new permanent commissioner will go quickly and smoothly so this sort of thing can be avoided in the future.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:35 PM on May 15, 2013


"Obama just announced the resignation of the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller."

He made his living on other people's taxes, and was advised to go on, take the money and run.
posted by klangklangston at 4:09 PM on May 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sucks to give a minor political victory to someone like Rubio but it probably had to be done. Hopefully the confirmation of a new permanent commissioner will go quickly and smoothly so this sort of thing can be avoided in the future.

We'll see if they let anyone short of an actual Tea Party 501c4 organizer into the position.

But, hey, now it's put up or shut up time. The Democrats have had anti-electioneering legislation in the wings for three years, let's see if Rubio et al are here to collect scalps and bitch or get down to actual legislatin'. Hell, ratfuck the whole lot of 'em, throw in the media shield bill the GOP shot down in 2010 on the AP mess, refuse the anti-gay spouse measures in the immigration bill and bring back ENDA to see if the homophobe dead-enders still think pure uncut discrimination is totes awesome, and re-up the funding Issa and his BENGHAZIBENGHAZIBENGHAZI pals refused the last five years running. They want to gum up the works instead of help run a country, time to make them pay for it for the next generation or two.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:18 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Looks like instead the Republican response to the scandal at the IRS will be to...something something Obamacare.

My Republican congressman already sent me an e-mail after the resignation.

Recent concerns have caused many Americans to question the IRS’ role in the implementation of the President’s Healthcare Law. In response, the House of Representatives will take up a measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this week. How do you feel about the new healthcare law? I want to know your thoughts.

Please take my short survey and share your thoughts on this issue: http://fitzpatrick.house.gov/how-fix-healthcare

posted by Drinky Die at 4:25 PM on May 15, 2013


Looks like instead the Republican response to the scandal at the IRS will be to...something something Obamacare.

They're up to 15% of all the time spent in legislative sessions since it was passed. In the middle of a financial crisis and global conflict.

Also: CBO once again tells GOP what it doesn't want to hear
In that [2012] letter, CBO indicated that the net savings from eliminating the insurance coverage provisions of the [Affordable Care Act] would be more than offset by the combination of other spending increases and revenue reductions that repeal of the ACA would entail. On balance, CBO and [the Joint Committee on Taxation] estimated, repealing the ACA would affect direct spending and revenues in ways resulting in a net increase in budget deficits of $109 billion over the 2013-2022 period.
Right. Republicans say they want to lower the deficit, and they say they want to destroy the Affordable Care Act without replacing it, but they don't realize those two goals are contradictory. If they repeal "Obamacare," they add $109 billion to the deficit in the coming decade.

It's all a partisan charade anyway, so I realize we're well past the point of a mature debate about public policy, but just once I'd like to hear someone ask a House Republican leader, "How do you intend to pay for repealing the health care law?"
posted by zombieflanders at 4:31 PM on May 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


So...wait...Obamacare saves us over a hundred billion dollars?

Why doesn't that have its own FPP?
posted by MoTLD at 5:35 PM on May 15, 2013




They want to gum up the works instead of help run a country,

Not quite true. If Dear Leader had an R instead of a D as the party tag, they'd be going along with whatever Dear Leader had to say.

I don't quite understand the opposition from the House of R to the Obamacare bailout of insurance companies. Creating more government regulations and government back-stopped businesses are what the Republicans do, no matter what they claim they support.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:06 PM on May 15, 2013




the Obamacare bailout of insurance companies

Care to explain why health insurance company stocks went down rather than up when the Supreme Court unexpectedly approved Obamacare?
posted by yoink at 9:47 AM on May 16, 2013


Because the stock market is neither perfectly efficient nor perfectly rational.
posted by GuyZero at 10:02 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obama To Tap Daniel Werfel As Acting IRS Chief
President Barack Obama will appoint senior White House budget officer Daniel Werfel to be acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, a White House official says.

Werfel will replace Steven Miller, ousted Wednesday amid revelations that the IRS improperly singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny.
The 42-year-old Werfel is the controller of the Office of Management and Budget, a job akin to a chief financial officer. Though Werfel was appointed to that job by Obama, he also worked during the administration of President George W. Bush.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:41 PM on May 16, 2013


Care to explain why health insurance company stocks went down

Care to prove your claim with a listing of all "health insurance" stocks over time?
posted by rough ashlar at 12:50 PM on May 16, 2013


President Barack Obama will appoint senior White House budget officer Daniel Werfel to be acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, a White House official says.

Go Gators, I guess.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:51 PM on May 16, 2013




Hopefully the confirmation of a new permanent commissioner will go quickly and smoothly so this sort of thing can be avoided in the future.

Apparently that's not gonna happen: Who is IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel?
“Throughout his career working in both Democratic and Republican administrations, Danny has proven an effective leader who serves with professionalism, integrity and skill,” Obama said in a statement. “The American people deserve to have the utmost confidence and trust in their government, and as we work to get to the bottom of what happened and restore confidence in the IRS, Danny has the experience and management ability necessary to lead the agency at this important time.”
[...]
Werfel may be well liked by colleagues at the OMB and the White House, but some lawmakers seemed skeptical or said they didn’t know much about him.

“Placing a White House insider in charge of an agency whose leadership willfully misled Congress and targeted American people for exercising free speech does absolutely nothing to restore the public’s confidence in Washington,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said in a statement.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said he wasn’t familiar with Werfel.

“If I was the president I would find the very best businessman I possibly could who’d be willing to take it over and have the authority to be able to straighten the mess out,” Hatch said. “I don’t know whether Werfel has that kind of dimension or not, but I hope he does.”

Joshua Bolten, who served as OMB chief and White House chief of staff for George W. Bush, said Werfel has a reputation as a nonpartisan problem-solver.

“He’s completely a career guy, and somebody who had an excellent reputation which I came to understand he deserved,” Bolten said.

“I think he’s a smart choice because the IRS is clearly an agency that has been badly mismanaged, with the insertion of extremely inappropriate political considerations and gone badly awry,” Bolten said. “He’s a guy who is a nonpartisan professional who has dealt with tough management situations and should rapidly earn the respect of career folks there.”
Who could have predicted that?
posted by zombieflanders at 6:12 AM on May 17, 2013


Werfel doesn't need to be confirmed by the Senate because he's assuming the acting director role, not permanent director. But he was already confirmed by the Senate for his previous role as head of OMB's Office of Federal Financial Management. Nobody showed up to his confirmation hearing except the committee chair and he was approved in the Senate by unanimous consent, i.e. no vote was even taken because it was uncontroversial.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 6:31 AM on May 17, 2013


Dubious Dealings of Tea Party Groups Could Have Drawn IRS Scrutiny
Virtually everyone in Washington agrees on at least one thing about the IRS scandal: The tax agency's trolling for tea party groups and giving extra scrutiny to their applications for nonprofit status was an egregious violation. Exactly how and why that conduct took place remains under investigation. But as conservatives in particular decry the IRS failure, it's also worth considering the dubious fiscal history of some tea party groups, including their pursuit of non-profit status. While the IRS had absolutely no business profiling any groups based on political criteria, it is not blaming the victim to observe that scrutiny was warranted in specific cases—and they include some major tea party outfits and their leaders, documents show.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:21 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


For All Deluded And/Or Stupid People (Which Is Most People)
Along those lines, my favorite comments to date might be from a letter to the NYT:
I believe that all Americans, and not just the Republican Party, should seize on the issue of the Internal Revenue Service’s focus on conservatives. We should all be very concerned about a government agency using its power for political ends.
This is genuinely impressive. It is stupidity refined and shaped into a weapon of massive destructive power, stupidity that is positively metaphysical in its reach. Idiocy on this scale obliterates universes.

To use "its power for political ends" is what any and all government agencies do. That is the reason they exist. The State itself, including its various critical appendages (such as "the law"), is a weapon forged by the ruling class to protect and increase its own power and wealth. The State and its appendages are used against everyone else. Thusly, as explained by Albert Jay Nock:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:03 AM on May 17, 2013


Care to prove your claim with a listing of all "health insurance" stocks over time?

Dude, the performance of stocks in the big health insurance companies (Cigna, Aetna, Humana, UNH etc.) is a matter of readily available public record; if you're too lazy to do some pretty simple Googling, I'm not going to do the work for you. They all dropped on the day that the Obamacare decision was announced. That seems a rather paradoxical result if your characterization of Obamacare were correct, no? And no, this wasn't simply a matter of the market in general falling. Stocks in hospitals went up (more people will be receiving care, you see).
posted by yoink at 9:07 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


From some ways above:
This will be a really good test for Maddow and Stewart to see if they condemn this.

I already commented that Maddow, being a show on a channel that posits itself as like a mirror-universe Fox News, need not do this (it's not like Fox typically devotes a lot of airtime to embarrassing conservatives), and Stewart chases the funny regardless of political basis.

But Maddow, it turns out, did an excellent job unpacking the implications of this in a fair and accurate way, and didn't let the IRS off at all. They did note that Obama decried it himself early in the scandal's development. They also noted that most administrations of late have used the IRS for political purposes, even Clinton, but also Bush and others too, going back, predictably, to Nixon. And that it's not cool when anyone does it, but at least Obama didn't seem to know about it, which seems to me to at least partially vindicate his "let the smart men do their jobs" approach to the executive branch -- it makes it less plausible that this was him taking personal political advantage of the IRS, that it was more that head of the hydra doing its own thing.

Stewart mostly made it an object of fun of Obama claiming he learned about the situation with everyone else, on the news. That was also Obama's reaction to the Justice Department phone records scandal, which gives it a bit of weight.

If it were a choice between the two I think Maddow did better, in fact it one of her best bits since I started watching listening to her. (I listen to her show in podcast form.)
posted by JHarris at 12:16 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


me: This will be a really good test for Maddow and Stewart to see if they condemn this.

Man, people sure read a lot of antagonism into that sentence of mine. Maybe because I've been doing some teaching lately I think of "test" differently. "Tests" are where people demonstrate their skills, and I generally hope and expect them to be passed.

But all that misunderstanding is worth it for the Maddow podcast tip. Thanks.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:45 PM on May 17, 2013


NYT: The Treasury Department’s inspector general told senior Treasury officials in June 2012 he was auditing the Internal Revenue Service’s screening of politically active organizations seeking tax exemptions, disclosing for the first time on Friday that Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year.

New claim from the right will be that the administration covered this up during the election year.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:44 PM on May 17, 2013


'We could lose everything': Tea Party groups prepare to sue IRS

Devereaux is among a group of activists, being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, who are preparing to sue the federal government for the practice of targeting Tea Party groups. ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow -- once a lawyer for the Treasury Department -- told FoxNews.com he'll likely file the civil suits next Wednesday or Thursday on behalf of more than a dozen Tea Party groups who say they were singled out by the IRS and had their tax-exempt status severely delayed or denied altogether
posted by Drinky Die at 3:34 PM on May 17, 2013


'We could lose everything': Tea Party groups prepare to sue IRS

They will lose, and they will whine about "activist judges," even though that's the opposite of what that bullshit phrase was invented to describe.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:58 PM on May 17, 2013


Sorry benito.strauss, I may have made that assumption. At least they seem to have done pretty well by the terms of your test.
posted by JHarris at 7:08 PM on May 17, 2013


New claim from the right will be that the administration covered this up during the election year.

Here we see one of the flaws of the "attack everywhere, every way possible" strategy the Right has been using lately. When Fox News has been constantly comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin, calling him a tyranical Commo-fascist at every turn, when they actually have a beef that might be justifiable one tends to not want to give them the benefit of the doubt about it.
posted by JHarris at 7:12 PM on May 17, 2013


When Fox News has been constantly comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin, calling him a tyranical Commo-fascist at every turn, when they actually have a beef that might be justifiable one tends to not want to give them the benefit of the doubt about it.

The Fox who cried wolf?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:23 PM on May 17, 2013


Yes, they did, and I think it's important, with all the false balance being claimed between D's and R's, to draw attention when lefties address problems that hurt them politically.

I have some hope that it gives some moral authority, though maybe I'm just a fool when you have articles like this one in Politico pining after the authoritarian arrogance of Dick Cheney. As Charlie Pierce says, "The inherent political disadvantage of not being a sociopath is far too little studied."
posted by benito.strauss at 7:36 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maddow also went after the media over Benghazi tonight: Media not unscathed by weeks scandal frenzy
posted by homunculus at 12:12 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]




Looks like instead the Republican response to the scandal at the IRS will be to...something something Obamacare.

Conservatives will stop at nothing to tear this country down to the floorboards and nails, with whatever lies it takes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:58 AM on May 18, 2013


Dude, the performance of stocks in the big health insurance companies (Cigna, Aetna, Humana, UNH etc.) is a matter of readily available public record; if you're too lazy to do some pretty simple Googling, I'm not going to do the work for you.

Except, friend, you're the one making the claim. But, I did, in fact do a little googling to reassure myself that I wasn't mis-remembering, because what I'd heard is that insurance company stock rose when the act passed.

I googled: "health insurance stocks obamacare" and found results showing that prices rose.

Here's one article.

Which has this:While the general stock market has gone up 40% since the bill's passage, United Health Group (UNH), Aetna (AET), and Cigna (CI) have outperformed at 72%, 75%, and 89% gains respectively.

posted by Trochanter at 7:40 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the first paragraph of that article...

evidence suggests that investors are cautiously optimistic, though there is no overwhelming evidence that investors are placing bets one way or the other.
posted by MoTLD at 8:44 AM on May 18, 2013






Americans' attention to Benghazi and IRS 'scandals' lower than usual

I guess it's the Republicans' turn to discover that if you treat everything an administration does as an egregious violation of everything we as a country stand for, people stop listening to you. Pick your battles, folks.
posted by wierdo at 9:27 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]






The number of Americans who view the Republican Party unfavorably has hit a record high, according to a new poll released by CNN on Monday, despite scandals that have plagued the White House over the past few weeks.
-
The same poll found that 54 percent of respondents said the GOP was "reacting appropriately" to the IRS' targeting, compared with just 42 percent who said they were "overreacting." Majorities also believe, however, that what Obama has said about the scandal has been at least "mostly true," and that the IRS acted on its own in carrying out the targeting.

posted by Drinky Die at 6:05 AM on May 21, 2013


LA Times: A top IRS official in the division that reviews nonprofit groups will invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions before a House committee investigating the agency’s improper screening of conservative nonprofit groups.

Lois Lerner, the head of the exempt organizations division of the IRS, won’t answer questions about what she knew about the improper screening – or why she didn’t reveal it to Congress, according to a letter from her defense lawyer, William W. Taylor 3rd.

posted by Drinky Die at 1:04 PM on May 21, 2013


I don't' blame her. You've got senators asking "who's going to jail for this scandal?", ignoring the fact that people go to jail for crimes, not scandals. They're out for blood.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:03 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


She'd have to be an idiot to testify.
posted by Justinian at 3:41 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


That would really suck: going to jail not only for doing your job but for probably doing it better than the senators and congresscritters who want to put you there do their own jobs.
posted by XMLicious at 4:07 PM on May 21, 2013


I don't' blame her. You've got senators asking "who's going to jail for this scandal?", ignoring the fact that people go to jail for crimes, not scandals. They're out for blood.

So what? Senators can't throw people in prison.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:22 AM on May 22, 2013


From reading the article, it seems that the possible criminal charges aren't for "doing her job" but for allegedly lying to a House committee about what she did. I don't think that being a bad employee should be criminalised, but that isn't why she's taking the 5th.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:25 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The House’s IRS hearing: Live updates

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) told IRS officials on the panel that there will be “hell to pay” if they refuse to answer the committee’s questions — a message clearly targeted at Lois Lerner, whose lawyer has said she will plead the Fifth Amendment and not answer questions.
-
“If you refuse to answer,” Lynch said, “you will leave us no choice but to ask for a special counsel or the appointment of a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of this.”
posted by Drinky Die at 8:46 AM on May 22, 2013


From reading the article, it seems that the possible criminal charges aren't for "doing her job" but for allegedly lying to a House committee about what she did. I don't think that being a bad employee should be criminalised, but that isn't why she's taking the 5th.

It seems like you can only reach that conclusion from reading that article if you presume that the only possible improprieties are on her part and the only claims in it that could be intentionally false are when she says through her lawyer that "she has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation".

In fact the way that you "misunderstood" what I said so that you could respond as though I was proposing that she's actually been a criminally bad employee and was lamenting that she can't more easily escape from the consequences of that, instead of an average one who may be suffering the misfortune of being at the right place and time to serve as a Voodoo doll that congressional grandstanders can publicly stick pins into in lieu of OBAMA!11!! which is what I meant, is quite an apropos and direct example of the sort of manipulations and deceptions that powerful government officials with subpoena powers might use in pursuit of wrecking someone's life or career to score political points.
posted by XMLicious at 12:11 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems like you can only reach that conclusion from reading that article if you presume that the only possible improprieties are on her part

Lerner can only assert a privilege for herself. By taking the Fifth, she is explicitly saying, "if I were to testify truthfully, I would incriminate myself."
posted by BobbyVan at 12:35 PM on May 22, 2013


No, and that's an appalling read of the constitution.

Pleading the 5th allows no conclusions to be made about guilt or innocence, and the incrimination implied may be unrelated to the question at hand, e.g. someone's alibi for murder being that they were texting in a car at the time.
posted by klangklangston at 1:04 PM on May 22, 2013


I think that's an appalling read of my comment. I said nothing about "guilt or innocence," or whether "the incrimination implied" was related "to the question at hand."
posted by BobbyVan at 1:20 PM on May 22, 2013


Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation
BobbyVan: By taking the Fifth, she is explicitly saying, "if I were to testify truthfully, I would incriminate myself."

No, she's not. At least not in any legal sense I'm aware of (though IANAL). We can certainly speculate as to why she is choosing to do this, but that doesn't equate to "she is explicitly saying".
posted by benito.strauss at 1:42 PM on May 22, 2013


(Though thinking further, I don't really understand how "criminal case" fits into congressional testimony. How does congress make people appear before it?)
posted by benito.strauss at 1:45 PM on May 22, 2013


With subpoenas, under its investigative power.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:48 PM on May 22, 2013


If "pleading the fifth" were an admission of guilt then it would be much less powerful a protection. People may plead the fifth amendment because they are afraid of revealing their involvement in a separate matter (e.g., suppose Ms Lerner were secretly running a drug ring out of her office) or simply because they feel strongly about constitutional rights. If courts could delve into the rationale it would vitiate the protection of that amendment. On the other hand, I suppose Ms Lerner could be granted immunity in respect of her testimony, and I understand that she might then be compelled to testify.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:04 PM on May 22, 2013


No, she's not. At least not in any legal sense I'm aware of (though IANAL). We can certainly speculate as to why she is choosing to do this, but that doesn't equate to "she is explicitly saying".

Actually, the 5th Amendment is *explicitly* a right not to be compelled to offer testimony that would be incriminating of oneself. That's what being "a witness against himself" means. Lerner might genuinely believe she did nothing wrong, but by taking the 5th, she is acknowledging that her truthful testimony could be damaging to her defense in a criminal trial. As I've already said, it doesn't make her guilty of anything, per se.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:13 PM on May 22, 2013


"Actually, the 5th Amendment is *explicitly* a right not to be compelled to offer testimony that would be incriminating of oneself. That's what being "a witness against himself" means. Lerner might genuinely believe she did nothing wrong, but by taking the 5th, she is acknowledging that her truthful testimony could be damaging to her defense in a criminal trial. As I've already said, it doesn't make her guilty of anything, per se."

That's a dance back, but the substantive difference can be found in the word "would" versus "could." She's allowed to assert that right not just if her statements would be incriminating, but if she (or her lawyer, functionally) believe they could be incriminating. Your certainty is what I object to, and your statement pretty clearly did imply that you were talking about this as a case.
posted by klangklangston at 3:32 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


By taking the Fifth, she is explicitly saying, "if I were to testify truthfully, I would incriminate myself."

This is possibly one of the stupidest things I've read on Metafilter, but considering how the tropes of "If you ask for a lawyer, that means you're guilty," and "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" have permeated our culture, I shouldn't be surprised.

GOP’s Switch on Financial Disclosure Wins Gold Medal in Hypocrisy Olympics
Every organization applying for 501(c)(4) status that wanted to engage in campaign-related activity could have done so without going the 501(c)(4) route. They could instead register under a different section of the IRS code involving nonprofits, Section 527, for politically related organizations—easy and swift.
Why not do so? One reason, one word, the crux of the issue here: DISCLOSURE. This is all about disclosure of donors, and about political actors trying to find ways to avoid disclosure. And we should be clear that the ability to conceal donors, to launch stealth attack ads, or to threaten lawmakers with such ads if they don’t support the policy preferences or legislative goals of the donors is something the Supreme Court rejected 8-1 in the famous Citizens United decision.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:56 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is possibly one of the stupidest things I've read on Metafilter

And ^this is so lazy that it can't even get up off the couch to make an actual argument. For starters, it might help to familiarize yourself with the word "incriminate." You know, people who are innocent of a crime can make truthful, incriminating statements too, right?

The 5th Amendment is "the privilege against self-incrimination" - full stop. She would not be exercising her 5th Amendment right if she and her lawyers were not convinced that full and truthful testimony would foreseeably place her in legal jeopardy. And for the third time, I'm not saying it's an admission of guilt. The Supreme Court has ruled that the 5th Amendment also "serves to protect the innocent who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances."
posted by BobbyVan at 5:30 AM on May 23, 2013


Issa looks to call back IRS official who refused to testify, says she voided 5th Amendment right

Lawyer types know if there is any validity to his argument?
posted by Drinky Die at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2013


Hunger Games: The conservative plan to starve government has paid off with the IRS scandal
The just and logical result of this chain of events would be to discredit the people intent on starving government. Instead, the scandal has become a convenient talking point for opponents of government itself. The IRS uproar “probably represents the last shovelful of dirt on the central mission of Barack Obama’s presidency: rehabilitating Big Government’s reputation as a necessary first step toward a new Progressive Era,” wrote the economics commentator James Pethokoukis in National Review. More alarmingly, mainstream pundits are echoing this conclusion. “The IRS flap eats away at the underpinnings of what President Barack Obama promised when he first ran in 2008,” wrote the centrist columnist Jerry Seib the following week. “A revival of confidence that government is capable of solving problems in a smart and nonideological manner.”

I’m afraid Seib is right. As it’s currently playing out, the scandal probably is sapping confidence in government. But how we got to this point is no accident. It was the plan all along.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:00 AM on May 23, 2013


Lawyer types know if there is any validity to his argument?

I'm not a lawyer.
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 476 (1966)
(b) The privilege against self-incrimination, which has had a long and expansive historical development, is the essential mainstay of our adversary system and guarantees to the individual the "right to remain silent unless he chooses to speak in the unfettered exercise of his own will," during a period of custodial interrogation [384 U.S. 436, 437] as well as in the courts or during the course of other official investigations. Pp. 458-465.
(g) Where the individual answers some questions during incustody interrogation he has not waived his privilege and may invoke his right to remain silent thereafter. Pp. 475-476.
Obviously, a congressional hearing is not a custodial interrogation.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:06 AM on May 23, 2013


Dershowitz: IRS official Lerner 'can be held in contempt' of Congress
Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz said Wednesday that Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversaw exempt organizations during the admitted targeting of conservative political groups, could be held in contempt and even go to jail after her appearance at a congressional hearing earlier in the day.

Lerner made a brief opening statement — insisting she had "done nothing wrong" — before invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. Some legal scholars, including Dershowitz, have said that in giving the opening statement, Lerner may have waived her Fifth Amendment protections.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:22 AM on May 23, 2013


James Duane, of famous video "Don't Talk To The Police" - previously - says no. WSJ says consensus is "no," The Atlantic calls Issa's reasoning sketchy, Breitbart [no link] says that Issa is correct and yes.
On a media analysis front, the headlines are either repeating Issa's claim that Lerner waived her rights, or are yes-or-no questions. Bettridge's law guideline still applies.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:23 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh man, is Issa ever going to feel embarrassed!

(just kidding, he's a proud idiot.)
posted by benito.strauss at 11:01 AM on May 23, 2013




The Daily Show: Tax Men - The IRS

Nooney Tunes
posted by homunculus at 6:23 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wasn't aware of this: When FDR Used The IRS Against Jewish Activists
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:03 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some tea-party groups examined by the IRS indeed crossed the line
The more information that comes out about the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service, the harder it is to say employees there erred completely in putting more scrutiny on particular groups seeking tax-exempt status. According to the New York Times, for example, several of the tea party groups targeted by the IRS were engaged in overt political activity. One group — the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama — sponsored get-out-the-vote training “dedicated to ‘the defeat of President Barack Obama.’” Another, an organization meant to engage veterans in government, had given donations to a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives.

As the Times notes, this is exactly the kind of activity that the IRS is supposed to question when it’s deciding on tax-exempt status for “social welfare” organizations:
[A] close examination of these groups and others reveals an array of election activities that tax experts and former I.R.S. officials said would provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review.

“Money is not the only thing that matters,” said Donald B. Tobin, a former lawyer with the Justice Department’s tax division who is a law professor at Ohio State University. “While some of the I.R.S. questions may have been overbroad, you can look at some of these groups and understand why these questions were being asked.”
None of this is to say an investigation of the IRS’s process is unnecessary. There are documented instances when the agency stepped beyond the lines of acceptability. What this shows, however, is that there’s still no substance behind the idea that it was engaged in political or ideological targeting.

Still, everyone agrees that it’s important to get to the bottom of what happened at the IRS — it’s why congressional Democrats have also asked the agency to provide documents and other information relating to its activities. The danger for Republicans is that this spills over to become another attack on the administration.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:28 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Still no substance...wha?

Way to stir the pot, zombieflanders! ;)
posted by MoTLD at 10:44 AM on May 27, 2013


Still no substance...wha?

Yes, there's still no substance to the claims that anybody outside some personnel at the Cincinnati IRS office was using political or ideological shortcuts (either in response to a huge influx of groups or personal leanings).
posted by zombieflanders at 11:08 AM on May 27, 2013


So you concede that some personnel did use political or ideological shortcuts...at the only IRS office that processes tax exemption applications? Put another way, a significant portion of the entire tax exemption application processing division of the IRS is corrupt.

In any case, do you really want to start this argument back up this late in the thread?

Downplay it all you like, this is a big deal. And when a conservative administration is in power, I won't be any happier when they unfairly target your pet favorite groups.
posted by MoTLD at 11:25 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]




MoTLD, you have a strange definition of "corrupt."
posted by wierdo at 1:42 PM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


So you concede that some personnel did use political or ideological shortcuts...at the only IRS office that processes tax exemption applications? Put another way, a significant portion of the entire tax exemption application processing division of the IRS is corrupt.

No, you're putting it that way. By nearly every single account, any shortcuts used were as a filter to deal with a tidal wave in new applications, over 80% of which came from groups that seemed to be blatantly political rather than social welfare. There is no evidence as yet that this had anything to do with any political animus as opposed to bone-headed filtering methodology.

In any case, do you really want to start this argument back up this late in the thread?

Downplay it all you like, this is a big deal. And when a conservative administration is in power, I won't be any happier when they unfairly target your pet favorite groups.


Really? What argument am I restarting and what is being downplayed? The facts as we know them are that 1) improper phrasing was used as a filter, 2) only low-level personnel ever used those filters, and 3) when higher-ups found out about it they told the people in #2 to put a stop to it. At no point was there any orders from the administration, the IRS, or even the management of the IRS EO division to use those filters.

If you want to argue that the administration was unfairly targeting anybody (something done by previous administrations of all ideologies) and/or that there was corruption as opposed to incompetence, something that wasn't present in the IG findings or in any reporting to date, by all means present us with the proof of such. I mean, I'd personally take it to all the major news sources first, seeing as how it would be a massive revelation to all parties involved, but if you want to share it on the Blue first, that's cool.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:06 PM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fair enough. I'll settle for assumption of incompetence until the full facts are in. But IMO this is rather long-running and one-sided incompetence to be written off as an innocent mistake.

But I'll try to rein in my cynicism for the time being.
posted by MoTLD at 3:24 PM on May 27, 2013


MoTLD: "But IMO this is rather long-running and one-sided incompetence to be written off as an innocent mistake."

Nobody's ruling out the possibility of malice, but there's a difference between malice at the middle management layer of a regional IRS office and a campaign orchestrated at the highest levels of our government, the latter of which has been repeatedly alleged by many right-leaning commentators despite zero evidence to that effect. Conservatives have been saying forever that government is routinely and intrinsically incompetent, but when faced with evidence of actual, measurable incompetence in the form of the Cincinnati IRS office, they're suddenly desperate to find a criminal / malevolent angle in order to discredit the administration.

They've used the same strategy on Obama himself, simultaneously describing him as a feckless, out-of-touch, teleprompter-reading empty suit while asserting he's also a conniving, intimidating, Chicago-style bully. I understand why they would want to make both arguments, but I don't know how they expect that message to sink in amongst people who aren't already in the bubble.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:13 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]




Or not. It would have helped that article to know how many people get audited each year, and since at least a couple people there sounded like cranks, I'm willing to note that being a crank is often transitive, i.e. if you're engaged in dubious political activity, you may be engaged in dubious business activity too. It's possible, but I'd like to see more proof that this isn't just anti-tax conservatives who may have engaged in some Wesley Snipes actions.
posted by klangklangston at 12:31 PM on June 1, 2013




The Rude Pundit: Congress Hears From Conservative Groups Who Were Forced By Jackbooted IRS Thugs to Fill Out Forms:
Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee held hearing number 750 or so on whether or not the IRS forced poor mom and pop political organizations to fill out too many forms so that they could be tax-exempt groups that keep their donors secret and thus get all the free money they can con out of people. The horrible burden was best expressed by the testimony of Karen Kenny of the San Fernando Valley Patriots, which is affiliated with the Tea Party Patriots.

The SFVP describes itself thusly: "Our aim is to promote–by education and political action–American principles of Liberty, Limited Government and the Free-Market in this Valley of 2 million just north of Los Angeles, CA." Just to be clear: the group itself says that it is engaged in "political action." Indeed, in its "Declaration" of purpose, it lists, "Defeat Republicans and Democrats that pervert or deny this Nation's founding principles. We are weary of corruption." And yet the IRS is a hideous monster because it wanted to be sure that it wasn't engaged in political activity in order to receive 501(c)(4) status. Now, you might think saying flat out that you are going to defeat politicians who disagree with you and that you take part in political action clearly points to an engagement in political activity. Well, fuck you, you hater of America. This chilling form-filing is like McCarthyism times Stalinism plus Hitler to the 4th power.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:56 PM on June 5, 2013


*sigh* We covered upthread a ways the fact that these groups are allowed, within limits, to be partisanly political, while being tax exempt and keeping their donor lists private. Legally. Regardless of right, left, or other leaning.

If you don't understand that, please get educated. If you do, please don't bring incendiary self-proclaimed rudeness here after we've all calmed down.

And, yes, I know those weren't your words you quoted, but you quoted them and added nothing, so I have to assume you believe them.
posted by MoTLD at 1:14 PM on June 5, 2013


You are of course free to assume anything you'd like.
It may not be a good course of action.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:18 PM on June 5, 2013


I notice you didn't deny it.

Point is, it doesn't matter if you believe it, it's been covered. If the link you provided adds anything new to this discussion, maybe you could've quoted that part.
posted by MoTLD at 1:25 PM on June 5, 2013


The Colbert Report: IRS Political Targeting & Line Dancing Scandals
posted by homunculus at 1:31 PM on June 5, 2013


*sigh* We covered upthread a ways the fact that these groups are allowed, within limits, to be partisanly political, while being tax exempt and keeping their donor lists private. Legally. Regardless of right, left, or other leaning.

It's also been covered that 1) these allowances are (by design) meant to muddy the waters, should never been foisted upon the IRS on the first place because it was clear these problems would crop up; 2) that at least some of these groups were engaging in grey-area stuff and in some occasions crossing the line; and 3) that the people that brought this up (Jay Sekulow in particular) are trying to combine the targeting (which is problematic) with the scrutiny (which is required by IRS to follow up any flagged items).
posted by zombieflanders at 1:36 PM on June 5, 2013




I notice you didn't deny it.

This is the lowest form of discourse, but in order to pacify you, I'll make it clear:

Any link, comment, post, or blockquote that is, by standard convention (including but not limited to: italics, single-quotes, double-quotes, blockquote) indicated as not being my own words cannot and should not be construed as an endorsement by me or representative of my views on any subject, from now until the end of time, throughout the universe.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2013


Clear as mud, and anything but pacified.

You still didn't deny it, so let me make it clear: do you agree, in this specific instance, with the substance of the material you quoted?
posted by MoTLD at 1:43 PM on June 5, 2013


It is immaterial whether I agree or not. Linking is not approval. And I blockquote because people don't read links.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:51 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Linking is not approval, but it could generally be assumed to be so without context, except when someone has a history of providing links to opposing points of view for fairness' sake. Did you actually read your own MeTa on that subject?

Blockquoting is context.

And, if I had attributed the quote to you and then asked you to deny it, that would indeed be low. But in this case you quoted it yourself. And I am no longer assuming you agree with it. I'm assuming you lobbed it in here like a grenade just to see what would happen.

I'm out.
posted by MoTLD at 2:02 PM on June 5, 2013


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Internal Revenue Service manager, who described himself as a conservative Republican, told congressional investigators that he and a local colleague decided to give conservative groups the extra scrutiny that has prompted weeks of political controversy.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:16 PM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


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