IRS had reason to go after political groups

IRS.jpgYou have to hand it to the right-wing crowd - when it comes to getting their story out, they have a way of doing it loudly, clearly, and quickly. Never mind that the story is often filled with distortions or outright lies - by quickly setting the narrative, their opponents are forced to play defense from the very start. So it's been with the IRS story, the supposed scandal that's beginning to feel like cotton candy. Turns out that those IRS folks in Cincinnati had their reasons for honing in on conservative groups. From the NYT:

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."


I.R.S. agents are obligated to determine whether a 501(c)(4) group is primarily promoting "social welfare." While such groups are permitted some election involvement, it cannot be an organization's primary activity. That judgment does not hinge strictly on the proportion of funds a group spends on campaign ads, but on an amorphous mix of facts and circumstances. "If you have a thousand volunteer hours and only spend a dollar, but those volunteers are to help a particular candidate, that's a problem," Mr. Tobin said.


In Alabama, the Wetumpka Tea Party organized a day of training for its members and other Tea Party activists across the region in the run-up to the 2012 election. The training was held under the auspices of the Adopt-a-State program, a nationwide effort that encouraged Tea Party groups in safely red or blue states to support Tea Party groups in battleground states working to get out the vote for Republicans. Adopt-a-State was a key component of Code Red USA, a get-out-the-vote initiative organized by a conservative political action committee. The goal of Code Red USA was made clear in one of its fund-raising videos, which told supporters: "On Nov. 6, 2012, Code Red USA authorizes the defeat of President Barack Obama."

Writing in the L.A. Daily News, columnist Tim Rutten also wonders about the real motivations of conservative groups:

The IRS has the ability to compel all sorts of disclosures and what amounts to testimony in extra-judicial proceedings with an uncomfortable similarity to a star chamber. Used for political purposes, those powers can be ruinously abusive. That's why, since Watergate - when such abuses did occur - Congress has insisted that a fire wall of independence between the White House and the IRS be respected. The existence of that fire wall is what makes the assertions by some Republicans that the Obama White House was derelict in not identifying and cracking down on the misconduct in the IRS' Cincinnati office earlier seem premature at best and, more fundamentally, opportunistically dubious. So far, there is no evidence that the administration's operatives somehow compromised the IRS' independence or that senior tax officials acted at their behest. Unless facts to the contrary emerge, it is illogical to insist on the one hand that the White House keep the IRS at arm's length and, on the other, that it closely monitor and regulate the agency's activities.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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