June 28 2013
Patrice J. Lee
If Democrats and IRS officials thought they could persuade us to move on by convincing us that the agency was an equal opportunity targeter, they must be disappointed just now.
Clashing with congressional Democrats, a Treasury Department inspector general punched a hole in claims that the IRS subjected progressive groups to the same amount of scrutiny as conservative groups over the past couple of years. His investigation found that any targeting of liberal groups was far less common, less invasive and less obstructive than that of their conservative counterparts.
As we’ve covered, beginning in early 2010 the IRS misbehavior began as agents targeted the applications for tax exemption of Tea Party and other conservative organizations with delays, obtrusive questions and harassment.
After the scandal gained traction in the press, a few liberal groups came out saying that they too had been targeted for additional scrutiny. Congressional Democrats released IRS documents showing that groups identified as “progressive” were also tagged for additional review. This was the Left’s answer to what appeared to be a coordinated effort by IRS agents up the chain of command to put on ice political efforts by conservative groups during the past two election cycles. In short, there’s nothing to investigate here.
Yesterday, J. Russell George released a letter to congressional lawmakers explaining his investigation of the IRS. Here’s what he found:
From our audit work, we did not find evidence that the criteria you identified, labeled "Progressives," were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2012 timeframe we audited. The "Progressives" criteria appeared on a section of the "Be On the Look Out" (BOLO) spreadsheet labeled "Historical," and, unlike other BOLO entries, did not include instructions on how to refer cases that met the criteria. While we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria we described in our report, including employee interviews, e-mails, and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that "Progressives" was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention.
The numbers don’t lie. George’s team conducted additional research and found that only six of the 298 flagged applicants had "progress" or "progressive" in their names. And another 14 cases with "progress" or "progressive" in the group's name were not sidetracked for additional examination.
So progressive groups were put on a “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) list while Tea Party groups landed on the –what I’m calling– “Go On Get ‘Em” list.
Democrats feel short-changed by these new revelations and are questioning the timing of George’s letter. According to George, the initial report answered the questions it was asked in the first place but his team’s own investigation has confirmed those findings.
Trying to discredit George is a distraction from the larger issue that there was in fact a systematic targeting of political organizations. The IRS should be diligent in ensuring that any groups applying for tax exemption warrant that benefit –and it should be a benefit not a guaranteed right. The offensive abuse of power was that conservative groups were targeted with greater frequency and intensity. Congress is right to investigate to understand why this practice continued with the support of big wigs in Washington.
This is in fact not a partisan issue but a freedom issue. Americans with views from across the philosophical spectrum should not have to fear intimidation and possible retribution by government because their beliefs are at odds with those in power. If nothing else, pressure from the press, public and policymakers will hopefully be a deterrent for future misbehavior at the IRS and other agencies.
(For a who, what, when, and why of the events behind the IRS scandal check out this Forbes timeline.)