Archive for Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Opinion: What, exactly, was the IRS thinking?

May 15, 2013

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Well, this is a fine mess.

After years of moaning about various “conspiracies” against them, conservative activists finally have a real (i.e., not manufactured by Fox or inflated by Limbaugh) piece of evidence to take before the court of public opinion.

Meaning, of course, last week’s revelation that the Internal Revenue Service has been giving extra scrutiny to groups with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their names. Extra scrutiny from the IRS is about as welcome as extra scrutiny from the proctologist, so one can hardly blame conservative groups for complaining, as they’ve done since last year. Unfortunately, those complaints got no traction until Friday, when the IRS admitted the practice. Lois Lerner, director of the IRS division in charge of tax exemption, was speaking at an American Bar Association conference in response to a question about whether the conservative groups had been singled out. She admitted they were.

These groups reportedly amounted to about a quarter of the 300 organizations flagged for review between 2010 and 2012, but according to Lerner, there was no political intent. Rather, she says, the words became a shortcut used by employees to help them sort through the explosion of groups seeking tax exemption under the Internal Revenue Code. The relevant Code section, 501 (c) (4), requires that any exempt group be working to promote “social welfare” and that political action not constitute its “primary activity.” The groups the IRS flagged were not necessarily denied exemption, but were subjected to extensive questioning and required to produce membership lists and donor information.

Tuesday, the Justice Department launched an investigation. Two congressional committees are also looking into the matter. Every taxpayer not employed by the Obama administration should welcome the news.

Under the most charitable interpretation of the facts, this unit of the IRS used god-awful judgment. Under the least charitable, it engaged in ideological harassment inimical to and violative of, the First Amendment.

Taxpayers deserve to know which it is. And how long it has been going on. And whether groups of other ideological stripes have been similarly targeted. And how the malfeasance — assuming it is malfeasance — will be punished. And what safeguards will be put into place to ensure this sort of thing never happens again.

Frankly, Congress needs to address the regulations governing which groups get tax exemption in the first place. The existing standard noted above is porous enough that groups most people would define as political (Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA) are somehow nevertheless declared tax exempt, free to flood campaigns with unlimited money from sources they are not required to disclose.

One could argue, then, that the tea party and patriot groups singled out by the IRS are guilty mainly of playing the same old cynical shell game that has become all too familiar in recent years. But until that game is outlawed, the rules are what the rules are and they must apply evenly, regardless of ideological faith.

Some observers will find the controversial tea party and patriot groups less than sympathetic illustrations of that point. But every group is controversial to somebody. And only by vigilance toward everyone’s rights do we protect anyone’s rights.

It’s too easy to imagine some future IRS office using different shortcut words (“pro-choice,” let’s say or “Islamic”) to sort through applications for tax exemption. That possibility ought to temper any temptation among tea party foes to be cavalier toward this abridgement of conservatives’ rights. Better they should be thankful nothing like this has happened to them.

Yet.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Comments

Paul R Getto 1 year, 10 months ago

Frankly, Congress needs to address the regulations governing which groups get tax exemption in the first place. The existing standard noted above is porous enough that groups most people would define as political (Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA) are somehow nevertheless declared tax exempt, free to flood campaigns with unlimited money from sources they are not required to disclose.

This is the real issue. The IRS was clumsy and foolish. Perhaps this flap will result in a review of the law and all the bogus, left and right, groups being formed.

chootspa 1 year, 10 months ago

Exactly this. Make them all pay taxes and disclose their donors.

Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

LOL. Will we be making unions pay their taxes too and disclose their donors? Or should unions get special treatment?

msezdsit 1 year, 10 months ago

Well lets see here: You have a conservative republican supreme court ruling "citizen united" that allows , for example, Karl Rove, a conservative (albeit radical ) republican to solicit donations from , oh, conservative republicans who don't have to reveal who they are, (thus making it very difficult for the IRS to determine if their has been any evasion of taxes) for the purely political purpose of then contributing that money to political campaigns of conservative republicans, to a large part, to wage negative campaigns and character assassinations of political opponents of the said conservatives all under the ridiculous guise of "social welfare."

Next you have conservative republicans, essentially declaring that god is on their side (ala tea party) and the mega for profit churches making invisible donations to Karl Rove and other "social welfare" pacts that the IRS has to figure out amongst all these organizations pretending to be something other than what they are, (because of the republican supreme court) if they are paying their taxes. The IRS's job is to make sure people are paying their taxes.

So lets summarize: We have for profit churches operating tax exempt donating anonymously to purely political pacts pretending to be "social welfare" for the purpose of disrupting the fairness and healthiness of the political process to put candidates in office, who after elected, are the root of most of the disfunction now plaguing Washington right now. These candidates are so selfish and ideological that they have no intention of any compromises that our political process must have for functioning healthy America.

The tea parties biggest complaint is having to pay taxes and they operate in this republican created dishonest shell game to promote their anonymity so, among their reasons, to avoid paying taxes, why wouldn't the IRS red flag them.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 10 months ago

"why wouldn't the IRS red flag them" - Because it appears that the way in which it was done was illegal, making every other part of your comment irrelevant.

msezdsit 1 year, 10 months ago

IRS has been doing this for years and years, often at the behest of the very conservatives that are whining about it. Besides, what good are laws that are so ridiculous that they promote activity that should be against the law if it weren't for the republican supreme court.

"Because it appears" jinsf says. So long as it "appears", then, that is as good as factual to you when it "appears" to favor your position. Nice try, but my comment is very relevant.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 10 months ago

Well, the IRS has already disciplined two of their employees so it appears they believe wrongdoing has been done.

But questions persist. Until those questions are answered, perhaps in a court of law, it's best to say things appear in a certain way, with final determination yet to be settled.

msezdsit 1 year, 10 months ago

I can agree with that much. However, the "citizen united" ruling is factual and the problems that it has created are very real.

Greg DiVilbiss 1 year, 10 months ago

Karl Rove is not a conservative from many conservatives point of view.

msezdsit 1 year, 10 months ago

There are certainly words that describe him much better. He is certainly unscrupulous and not the least bit challenged by the truth.

Mike Ford 1 year, 10 months ago

the irs and justice dept. went after African American churches and their non profit status when they spoke against Bush a couple of years ago. This story works when one side ignores their own sins and their charlatans buy the noise.

Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

Why would the IRS, a couple of years ago, under the Obama administration, go after people speaking against Bush? Got any news stories about that?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 10 months ago

Did the IRS or the Justice Dept. target African American churches? I'm just going on memory here, but it's my recollection that there were media pundits (FOX, etc.) calling for such targeting because of the appearance that the churches were engaging in partisan political activity. But did the IRS then go out of it's way to target those churches? Did the Justice Dept. take any specific action that could be construed as targeting those churches?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

In essence, the IRS was profiling. Kinda interesting that the wingers don't like it when they get profiled, but if it's a Muslim or a black kid that gets profiled, it's quite acceptable.

George Lippencott 1 year, 10 months ago

Well I am sorry you failed to notice the big difference. When some individual "profiles" another it is a legal exercise of their rights to be stupid. When a government entity does so it is against the law.

Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

I don't know about NYC and whether mosques are any more monitored than churches, but we've seen time and again, and made fun of or were disgusted by stories of the TSA searching kids and grandma. We know kids and grandma aren't going to commit terrorist acts, but in order to strctly avoid profiling, we see these beurocrats searching them. The people doing the job aren't stupid or mean, they are just doing what the law demands, to search a truly random sample while looking for anything suspicious.

Treating a group named "Patriot Blah" different than others is analogous to pulling Omar Sharif aside for an extra search because his name isn't Kirk Douglas.

AZ, I disagree with, but that's just because I think we should have completely open borders with Mexico and Canada. I also think that without reasonable suspicion or in an emergency, a policeman should not allowed to ask more than your name and you should be allowed to decline to answer. I guess that covers NYC too.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

I stated no opinion here about it, but you're more than willing to post as if I had.

I think the whole 501C4 thing is a corrupt mess that's destroying any vestige of a democratic electoral process, and I have no doubt that many of the groups that the IRS identified this way are major players in that corruption.

But the way to address that is to investigate/audit all those who file 501C4, not just "tea party" groups.

Synjyn Smythe 1 year, 10 months ago

The administration, from the top down, has ably shown its corruption: IRS, Benghazi, and AP records debacles are just icing on the cake.

George Lippencott 1 year, 10 months ago

Help me, why would a government agency supposedly protected from political influence target the set of people/organizations it did.

Would seem to me that exercising due diligence on not for profits would include close examination of all new (and continuing) candidates regardless of political or ideological bent?

smileydog 1 year, 10 months ago

This seems like a carryover from the Clinton Administration that had the IRS audit individual critics of the Clinton Administration or the IRS in letters to the editor that were published across the country. The democrats are using fascist tactics against conservative groups, but somehow that's okay.

deec 1 year, 10 months ago

The king of targeted tax scrutiny was Nixon and his enemies list, but this has been going on since at least Hoover. There's nothing new under the sun.

George Lippencott 1 year, 10 months ago

So it is OK Remember that Mr. Obama was going to be transparent and a "change" in the old ways???

deec 1 year, 10 months ago

Didn't say it was okay. Said it was nothing new. Nixon did it best.

Armstrong 1 year, 10 months ago

Neither, Barry is Obamish. The only one that counts is the one looking back in the mirror. ( That's assuming he can see a reflection )

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 10 months ago

read this fast or you will miss it. It will be removed by the staff of this newsrag who are one of "thrm".

The IRS, Department of Justice, and congressional committees that are free of Republican Terrorst Facist members should investigate all "conservative" groups. These are shadow groups that are dedicated to what they could not achieve at the ballot box, bringing down the lawful government of the United States.

Don't believe me? Look right here in Kansas at the Republican governer who thinks he can legislate laws in violation of Federal Law

The IRS and any other government group that has the guts to check out these facist groups hiding behind the lable "conservative" should proceed immediately. These groups are a front dedicated to the downfall of the U.S. government and the lawfully elected President of the United States.

Our country is in grave danger from the so-called "conservatives"

jhawkinsf 1 year, 10 months ago

I see no reason at all why this post should be removed. It's nothing but an opinion, albeit a fairly extreme one, indicative of a paranoia on the part of the writer. Of course, that's just my opinion.

Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

"he can legislate laws in violation of Federal Law"

Govenors can't legislate.

smileydog 1 year, 10 months ago

First it was isolated to 75 conservative groups, then it went to 300 conservative groups, and NOW it is at 500 conservative groups targeted by the IRS, taking on average 27 months for approval and after the election. I smell a rat. It also was claimed to have been committed by low level IRS agents, but that has now changed to high ranking IRS people.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 10 months ago

Smily and others....

This is just the very beginning of the 2016 presidential race. The Republicans will plot, plan, scheme, attack, dinigrate, and any other tactic you care to envision to try to gain some traction on the 2016 election. Sad, but true. The polarization of politics in this country has created a monstrous divide between parties. I credit (?) talk show idiots like Rush Limbaugh (yes, I said idiots, they are out to do one thing, make money selling their stupid opinions) for this massave destruction of comprimise, consultation and cooperation. It sells more soap to scream at your enemies, and Limbaugh and his ilk have cashed in on this.

Our country is at risk from this sort of thing. But I would wager that it will continue.

Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

Mr Pitts, Lawrence has their own commentator on the matter. He said "those tea-party-like groups" desrve extra scrutiny. I'm still wondering what a "tea-party-like group" is.

Mr Pitts, you may be outraged about the IRS targetting people for their political beliefs, but our guy here has excuses for them. You two should try getting on the same page.

msezdsit 1 year, 10 months ago

Need only ask the people who claim that the irs targeted groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their application for political status disguised as "social welfare"

Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

Do you approve of the IRS giving extra scrutiny to groups based on keywords in their names? Is that something you really think passes muster under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment?

nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Scott Drummond 1 year, 10 months ago

Beyond the scrutiny before allowing the tax exempt status, what harm has befallen the tea bagger groups that are gnashing their teeth so vociferously? Should not those of us who pay our full taxes without any special break be in favor of close scrutiny of those who seek to avoid doing so. I am sure Dolph is drafting his editorial of outrage even as we speak. Perhaps he'll explain this apparent inconsistency among the self proclaimed saviors of our republic.

Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

Come back and talk to us when the word "rainbow" is targeted by the IRS.

verity 1 year, 10 months ago

ALL tax-exempt nonprofits should be scrutinized by the IRS and there should be a sharply defined set of rules to scrutinize them by so there is no misunderstanding, either by employees of the IRS or by the people running the organizations.

What we have now is a mess and hopefully this will be an incentive to clean it up.

true_patriot 1 year, 10 months ago

Selective outrage ... The IRS under the Bush-Cheney regime heinously targeted taxpayers based on both ideological bases and in a punishment (those that went to Iraq to protest before the invasion). They tended to allow the 1% to get away with massive tax fraud, spiriting vast sums out of the US into tax shelters such as UBS and the Caymens while targeting lower income families.

Churches and conservative groups have long blatantly abused their tax protected status and finally the IRS looks where it should be looking and in the end takes no action - that's literally zero action - against these groups that strongly deserve much closer scrutiny and now Obama, ever the middle of the road apologist, is giving legitimacy to this bloviating outrage by even acknowledging it much less agreeing to pursue it. Listening to Orin Hatch say "well if the gubmint can do THAT well there's no END to it" when he approved and stood by during all the real abuses by the IRS in the prior administration and his party led the way in gutting so many of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms in those years following 911.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 10 months ago

Move military spending to domestic spending for new industry. Outsourced industry is not coming back.

How congress can justify Free Trade Agreements that essentially export USA jobs is beyond me.

What is Congress going to do? This country cannot wait any longer for the Republican Party to cooperate. The Democratic Party cannot wait another fours years for Republicans to stop being obstacles to new U.S. industry that cannot be outsourced.

The U.S. cannot afford millions to have new jobs outsourced. Congress has failed the majority of the U.S. population. That 99 percent was the motor behind everything that had anything to do with the economy.

Why did Congress allow that to be nearly destroyed?

Why did Congress provide a tax code that protects profits on U.S. goods made abroad, in essence encouraging outsourcing of U.S. jobs by the millions.

Members of Congress need to explain why they think the U.S. economy does not need millions upon millions of blue- and white-collar workers employed in the United States.

Where did these conclusions come from? Corporate America was never going broke. Instead corporations have been making tons of profits.

This large group posing as the GOP will not build bridges. The GOP as it was 33 to 50 years ago is dead. Replace this bogus GOP with the Green Party.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 10 months ago

The focus of the USA should be:

--- Reining in the CIA and military spending.

--- Jobs jobs jobs and more jobs.

--- Medicare Single Payer which would create an estimated 2.4 million jobs.

--- Get the massive highway rehab underway.

--- Bring on cleaner energy.

--- Replacing the anti american rt wing GOP with the Green Party.

--- Electing a whole lot of new democrats.

--- Funding education to the max = new business and new employment.

--- Break up the big banks.

--- Put the home loan criminals in jail!!!!!!

Richard Heckler 1 year, 10 months ago

"The Other IRS Scandal": David Cay Johnston on Dark Money Political Groups Seeking Tax Exemption

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/5/16/the_other_irs_scandal_david_cay

bearded_gnome 1 year, 10 months ago

Some observers will find the controversial tea party and patriot groups less than sympathetic illustrations of that point. But every group is controversial to somebody. And only by vigilance toward everyone’s rights do we protect anyone’s rights.

---moveon.org

and Media Matters for America

both far left and closely tied to Obama were, of course, not hit with extra scrutiny.

also note that some workers at IRS broke the law by violating confidentiality and sending out private tax return and other private filing info to liberal groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Propublica-a Soros funded media impact organization. people at these organizations and others should face felony charges for illegally accessing tax returns, as that's against the law!

bearded_gnome 1 year, 10 months ago

Merrill writes above:

--- Put the home loan criminals in jail!!!!!!

---I'm so glad you're calling for the jailing of Barney Frank, maxine waters, former congressman dennis moore, and the other Democrats on the house financial services committee! finally we agree on something!

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