A reader writes:
You concluded that the Treasury IG for Tax Administration “must go” – based, in appears, in part on the characterization of the situation on Rachel Maddow’s blog. Aren’t you and your reader rushing to judgment much like, although in the opposite direction of, Darrell Issa? The situation is more complicated than Issa portrayed it, but also more complicated than portrayed by the Democrats. Have you read the letter by TIGTA to Levin [pdf]? To hit the highlights:
“Progressive” or similar words appeared on BOLO lists, but not the portion that said, in effect, if you see these terms, refer them for scrutiny for impermissible political activity. The IRS was “on the lookout” for more than just “terms that indicate possible political activity and should be reviewed for such.”
Some progressive or left groups were scrutinized for impermissible political activity, but it amounted to 30% of those groups that submitted applications during the audit period, rather than 100% for “tea party” or similar in their titles.
That looks much more like the progressive “referred for scrutiny based on permissible criteria” rather than “targeted and referred for scrutiny based solely on the name.” The letter specifically says TIGTA was not able to determine from its review why those groups were selected for review. TIGTA concluded that approximately 70% of ALL applications showed indications of improper political activity beyond the mere name of the organization.
Was the IG review biased, whether intentionally or not? Possibly, although not entirely clear – worth exploring. Were groups with “progressive” in their title treated the same as groups with “tea party” in their title? No, they weren’t. Did the differential treatment extend to the IRS National Office? Possibly, although probably not the top levels of the IRS, who are generally politically sensitive – worth exploring. Was this differential treatment driven by the White House? No evidence of such, and common sense says almost certainly not; I would be completely shocked. Until and unless someone at the IRS implicates the White House, we shouldn’t even be discussing that.
Is there as MUCH to this scandal as Darrell Issa implies? No. Is there as LITTLE to this scandal as Levin and other Democrats imply? No.
There’s more we should know about all of this. Werfel certainly doesn’t think he knows as much yet as he needs to about what happened. In the meantime, let’s cool the rhetoric on both sides. Why not let the process continue and then decide who must go? After all, the hasty call for heads to roll is what lead to firing Shirley Sherrod.
Another goes into further detail:
I know you may be a little hung over for this today, but you need to take a closer look at this IRS list being used by Democrats on the House Ways & Means Committee and liberal opinion commentators, to purportedly show targeting of both liberal and conservative groups. Indeed, if you do so, you will retract your hasty call for the Inspector General’s resignation. It is of the utmost necessity to scrutinize what the “list” actually represents. Here is the list [pdf]. The first thing to notice is that it does not include any documentation stating for what purpose this list was to be used. It does not contain the words “Be on the Look Out”. It initially appears to be a sort of directory identifying how to categorize certain types of applications, and where, within the IRS, those applications are to be sent. Moreover, “Progressive” and “Tea Party” fall within different sections of the list.
On the one hand, you find “Progressive” under a section headed, “Tab 2 – TAG Historical”. There it says, “applicants submit form 1023,” which is the form for 501(c)(3) status. And, “their ‘progressive’ activities appear to show that (c)(3) may not be appropriate.” Does this indicate targeting for an unwarranted level of scrutiny? Or is it meant to say simply that (c)(4) status would be more appropriate, because some of their activities are political? The list is unclear on that point. Why is the section in which “Progressive” is placed labeled, “Historical”? Is this to indicate these kinds of groups are no longer to be scrutinized? That their cases have already been disposed of? Also unclear.
“Tea Party”, on the other hand, falls under the section headed “Tab 3 – Emerging Issues”. There, it says that “local organizations in the Tea Party movement are applying for exemptions under 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4)”. It gives an “issue number” of EI-1 (the section on”Progressive” lacks an issue number). Additionally, it lists the name of a group (7822) and coordinator (Liz Hofacre) where “Tea Party” cases should be sent.
Finally, the list states that “[Tea Party] cases are currently being coordinated with EOT”. What is EOT? Well, the GAO says that EOT is the “Enhancing Ownership Transparency” project, which is a group within the IRS devoted to gathering detailed information about organizations, particularly about the ownership, in order to prevent noncompliance with tax law. Read about the EOT here.
What this list would appear to show, then, is precisely that Tea Party groups were singled out for a higher and more specific type of scrutiny, and treated differently that “Progressive” groups. Progressive groups were perhaps mis-categorizing themselves as (c)(3)’s, while Tea Party groups needed to be investigated by a special compliance group. And that fact is revealed by the very documents the Democrats are now touting in an effort to lessen the scrutiny on the IRS, and those within Congress and the Obama administration who may have been aware of or even encouraged the abuses, but failed to correct it.
But more important is the real issue: the actual, documented, verifiable targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups applying for tax exempt status to a degree that was not experienced by liberal groups seeking the same status. This is about what actually happened, in real life – not what is on some list whose purpose and provenance is obscure.
The distinction my readers make – and my thanks for their diligence – is worth noting. I never said the treatment of progressive and Tea Party groups was identical. But the evidence is that both types of groups were scrutinized. If the public had known that at the start of this circus, the tent filled wth Issa’s bloviations, would have collapsed.
And the key categories on this list are “Historical” and “Emerging Issues”. That implies that the impulse to examine the Tea Party groups more closely than the “Progressive” ones was about grappling with a relatively new phenomenon, especially after Citizens United – and not an ideological choice. J Russell George, in his testimony under oath, compared this with Nixon’s crimes (an absurdly partisan allegation), and gave the impression that liberal groups were not examined at all. It seems to me that when an IG is exposed as such a naked partisan, he has no credibility left and should resign.