The IRS scandal is dead—long live the IRS scandal!
Almost every conservative columnist who spent the last month writing the obviously-false narrative that conservative nonprofit groups were specifically targeted and scrutinized by the Internal Revenue Service (for the most nefarious of reasons) was just proven wrong.
The Associated Press reported today that an obtained IRS document showed that in addition to extra tax exemption scrutiny for groups using the terms “Tea Party,” they were looking at nonprofits and PACs that used the terms, “Occupy,” “Progressive,” “Healthcare legislation,” “Newspaper Entities,” “Paying National Debt,” and others—which means the IRS aren’t the liberal overlords as previously thought, but rather the equal opportunity annoyances we’ve always known them to be.
Surprised? Don’t be. This information is not new. It’s just reinforcing what conservative groups and Republicans on the Hill have been trying to keep quiet, as the scare-mongering reached new heights of political positioning which, even with today’s revelations, aren’t necessarily going anywhere.
The IRS has been embroiled in the supposed nonprofit profiling ordeal since May, when a top agency official apologized to her staffers for targeting Tea Party groups. Since then, as noted today at Salon, conservatives have accused the federal agency of being liberal, doing the bidding of the president and even costing Mitt Romney the 2012 election.
In the midst of the scandal, some Pennsylvania groups began piling on, saying they, too, were unfairly targeted. A pro-Israel group based in Lower Merion sued the IRS in 2010 after finding out their tax exemption status application was denied because of a “special IRS policy.” Other groups, like Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania claimed they were targeted.
That was enough for state politicians to jump to conclusions. In a crazy series of questioning and lecturing to outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) noted: “I have a grandson who’s afraid to get out of bed at night because he thinks there’s someone under the bed that’s going to grab him. And I think most Americans feel that way about the IRS.” His time ended in a standing ovation from those attending his committee hearing.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) actually explicitly jumped the gun on the issue. He noted on a conference call in May that the IRS scandal “appears to be politically motivated,” and could “have a chilling affect on the ability of conservatives groups to raise money.” He then added: “Nobody should be under the illusion that this is some kind of innocuous screening,” he said. “This was done with the intent, and in fact the result, of long delays.”
Toomey has not been vocal about the scandal since the new documents were released.
To be clear, the IRS not only targeting conservative groups doesn’t necessarily make what they did correct. If anything, it means we should all be a bit more weary of the agency’s practices. But it does disproves what many conservative, partisan minds seem to believe about the supposed partisanship of the agency.
I reached out to some Pennsylvania “liberal” groups which may fit the description of those which, according to the documents, could have been scrutinized.
Kevin Clough at Philly NORML, the local arm of a national marijuana advocacy group, says the group has not been additionally scrutinized. “We have a very small, donation-only budget, so I don’t think we’re big enough to attract the attention of the IRS, and I really hope it stays that way,” he writes by email.
Other groups I reached out to have not yet responded.
The other issue of note is the role Citizens United may have played. The conservative-touted Supreme Court ruling which held that corporations have the same First Amendment Rights as humans changed the rules for donating money to political nonprofit groups. And while political action committees are required to list their donors, “social welfare” groups aren’t, which some have hypothesized could have been the reason the IRS paid extra-special attention to social welfare groups with obvious political leanings.
As far as federal scandals go, IRS-gate was pretty small potatoes. Today’s revelation (if you want to call it that) isn’t going to do much to change the line of thinking that led to the outrageous outrage in the first place. Whether in the media or federal agencies, conservatives have long-relied on the basic idea that they are discriminated against worst of all in the U.S. For a while, IRS-gate reinforced that. Tomorrow, something else will.
Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso