Three reasons the IRS ‘scandal’ is ridiculous

Tea party members who oppose taxes already were likely quick to complain about scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. (Photo: Schmeeve)

The hearings have already begun, with lots more promised, politicians are struggling to top each other in appalled rhetoric and there have been calls for President Barack Obama to be impeached, all because the Internal Revenue Service has acknowledged that for a little while it was giving some extra scrutiny to political groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Even Obama – whom the Treasury inspector general cleared of involvement – has said that, if the allegations are true, “that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a nonpartisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party.” And two top agency officials have resigned.

Maybe these facts alone indicate serious scandal?

Nope. First, Obama’s comments are based on “if,” as in “if agency personnel acted improperly.” Second, it’s worth remembering the July 2010 resignation of Shirley Sherrod from the Department of Agriculture after video came to light of her making racist comments – video, it was quickly determined, that had been heavily edited to disguise the fact that Sherrod was delivering a powerful message against racism. So none of that means anything except that the conservative’s mode of constant outrage has put Democrat politicians into a mode of constant, cowering panic.

The entire response to the scandal seems to be based on it.

In addition to the fact that the IRS’ extra scrutiny was short-lived, brought about by low-level employees and canceled by their bosses and has already been thoroughly examined by the Treasury inspector general, here are three reasons why this scandal is ridiculous:

bullet-gray-smallConservatives weren’t really targeted. According to The Washington Post, “Of the 298 groups selected for special scrutiny, according to the congressional aide, 72 had ‘tea party’ in their title, 13 had ‘patriot’ and 11 had ‘9/12.’” That means 96 of 298 groups getting extra scrutiny were far-right, or 32 percent. Thirty-two percent isn’t a figure screaming of a witch hunt, not when 68 percent are “other.”

bullet-gray-smallThere wasn’t really much cause for complaint. One reason the scandal got going is that conservative groups were complaining about the scrutiny. But guess who’s more likely to complain about IRS scrutiny at any level? Right: Tea party groups, whose members despise government and taxes. (One definition of “tea” by tea party members: “Taxed Enough Already.”) Everyone has to wait at the DMV, but only certain people complain loudly about it. Keep in mind a guest Fox News’ Neil Cavuto had on Thursday, the conservative activist Tom Zawistowski, who said of his group’s 2.5-year wait for tax-exempt status: “This is unbelievable. This is Nazi Germany.”

Yes, apparently a wait of less than three years for tax-exempt status while the government assesses your anti-government organization – while you still get to have your anti-government organization – is Nazi Germany. Except that what would be even more like Nazi Germany is if you were dragged away to a concentration camp and gassed or worked to death for trying to start such an organization, which is what happened in Nazi Germany … you idiot.

bullet-gray-smallSome groups deserved to be targeted. The 501(c)(4) nonprofits that were being scrutinized are supposed to be “social-welfare” groups, not political groups, meaning their politicking is supposed to be “limited” and not a “primary activity,” as Mother Jones points out. But there’s no denying it: “Tea party” is a political designation, and tea party groups are formed of people who gather to espouse political beliefs and vote for political candidates, sometimes identified as members of the Tea Party. If the government sets rules that political groups aren’t supposed to be tax-exempt, we shouldn’t be slamming the government for investigating whether a group applying for tax-exempt status is primarily political in nature. Groups forming under the rubric “al Qaida” should be prepared to be investigated for terrorist connections.

Again, just because people complain really loudly doesn’t make this more of a scandal and less of a tedious bureaucratic balancing act that could be, and was, handled internally. These hearings are going to get awfully dull awfully quickly – just like the Benghazi hearings that were the last (and lingering) cause for outrage among the screamers on the right.


3 Responses to "Three reasons the IRS ‘scandal’ is ridiculous"

  1. patrickbarrett   Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    I feel like this article has to be a trap. Just so I can understand your argument Senor Levy, are you suggesting that 1) Because the time line of event took place over two years that somehow the infraction is lessened? 2) That because the % of tea party groups scrutinized was only a third of the total amount of groups scheduled for such scrutiny that magically absolves the IRS from wrong doing? 3) Lastly are you suggesting that incompetence on behalf of the IRS somehow mitigates the impact on those affected?

    Lets start with your assertion that “Conservative weren’t really targeted.”

    Based on everyone’s reporting you’re wrong. Dead wrong in fact. Even mother-jones acknowledges that “bad criterion” was used. Further this “bad criterion” included such language as “tea party,” and “patriots.” I’m not sure how familiar you are with the “laugh test” but I’d love to see you try and explain, in person, to anyone on the planet how those BOLO criterion doesn’t explicitly point to conservative groups. Mother-Jones skirts around the issue but at least they can admit that this was not the correct way to go about vetting political organizations and further that 18 months actually is kind of a long time be instigating these kinds of shenanigans.
    Next, “There wasn’t really much cause for complaint”

    Really Mark? While I will agree with you that the rhetoric of the Tea Party is obnoxious and often melodramatic, the fact the IRS behaved in this way is nothing short of … scary. It is scary that a nonpartisan organization with as much power and influence was allowed to operate in this way for a day, let alone 18 months. President Obama has conceded as much. Its not that a conservative group was singled out, its that ANY GROUP was singled out. In one foul swoop of stupidity and arrogance the IRS has vindicated the tin foil hat wearing fringe groups that keep our politics so painfully divided. So the president and I disagree; there actually is much cause for complaint.
    “Some groups deserved to be targeted”

    Maybe, but if the net effect of the targeting unfairly picks out a small sector of the population there is something definitely rotten in Denmark. If you’re suggesting that “tea party” and “al Qaida” should somehow be synonymous under the eyes of IRS scrutiny then I, again disagree. Further that the word “patriot” was also included I find especially disturbing. All groups are capable of misrepresenting themselves and all are deserving of equal scrutiny. See: ACORN.
    What really bakes my bread here is that you’ve written a nonsense article which has gotten me so annoyed that I am now seen running to the defense of tea party members; the usurpers of the republican party! I probably can’t stand these people more than anyone who visits this site let alone all of Cambridge. However in this instance, under these circumstances, they absolutely have a legitimate grievance. I know its fun to “high-five” your liberal brethren but to out and out deny reality to save a little egg is unbefitting; even of the most staunch liberals. The IRS betrayed the trust of us all, not just the wackos that dress like colonials and were lipton bags on their tri-cornered hats.

  2. HeatherHoffman   Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    From a congressional hearing yesterday (May 17) when Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) was questioning Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller (the guy who was fired even though it was a George Bush holdover in charge at the time this stuff happened; he was the acting Commissioner because the Republicans refused to allow a confirmation vote) (see

    “‘If the targeting wasn’t targeting, if the targeting wasn’t based on philosophy, how come only conservatives got snagged?’ Roskam confidently asked.

    “‘They didn’t, sir,’ Miller responded. ‘Organizations of all walks and all persuasions were pulled in. That’s shown by the fact that only 70 of the 300 organizations were tea party organizations, of the ones that were looked at by TIGTA [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration].’

    “Roskam angrily cut off Miller and asserted his statement was at odds with the inspector general’s testimony, then ended his questioning.

    “But Treasury inspector general J. Russell George testified during the hearing that no evidence indicated the additional review of the 300 groups was politically or ideologically motivated. He blamed the incident on mismanagement.”

    You can view the exchange at the link. Unlike the ACORN and Shirley Sherrod videos, it wasn’t sliced and diced to fit an ideological narrative.

    Note also that the only group that has been reported to have been denied an exemption was the Maine chapter of Emerge America, an organization whose national organization and several local chapters were found to be in compliance with sec. 501(c)(4) in 2006. The organization trains Democratic women to run for political office. The Maine group’s denial prompted the IRS to revoke the exemption for all the related Emerge organizations. See

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