Did Senate Democrats prompt the IRS into investigating conservative groups?


Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Over the last three years, Democrat senators repeatedly and publicly pressured the IRS to engage in the very activities that they are only now condemning today. At the same time, Republicans repeatedly and publicly warned against this abuse of government power and pointed to a series of red flags that strongly suggested conservative political organizations were being targeted by the IRS.  Those warnings were deliberately ignored by the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress.

 

As the New York Times reported back in 2010 :

With growing scrutiny of the role of tax-exempt groups in political campaigns, Congressional Republicans are pushing back against Democrats by warning about the possible misuse of the Internal Revenue Service to audit conservative groups….And the Republicans are also upset about an I.R.S. review requested by Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who leads the Finance Committee, into the political activities of tax-exempt groups.  Such a review threatens to “chill the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights,” wrote two Republican senators, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Jon Kyl of Arizona, in a letter sent to the I.R.S. on Wednesday. … Democrats dismissed the Republicans’ complaints as groundless.

You read that correctly.

The same Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who this week is calling for hearings into IRS activities, specifically called on the IRS to engage in that very conduct back in 2010. And he wasn’t the only one.  Just last year, a group of seven Senate Democrats sent another letter to the IRS urging them to similarly investigate these outside political organizations.

As the New York Times also reported just one week before they sent this letter:

The Internal Revenue Service is caught in an election-year struggle between Democratic lawmakers pressing for a crackdown on nonprofit political groups and conservative organizations accusing the tax agency of conducting a politically charged witch hunt.

Voters in New Hampshire may be interested to learn that Jeanne Shaheen was among the signatories of that letter urging action by the IRS.

So lost amid the hubbub surrounding the news that the IRS engaged in McCarthyite tactics to target specific political groups, and their subsequent apology for those tactics, has been the fact that the lobbying campaign from Senate Democrats actually worked.

From Max Baucus to Chuck Schumer to Jeanne Shaheen, key Senate Democrats publicly pressured the IRS to target groups that held differing political views and who, in their view, had the temerity to engage in the political process. The IRS listened to them and acted. And other Democrat senators like Kay Hagan and Mark Pryor said and did nothing about it.

Perhaps their strategy of distraction may work in the short-term with a Washington press corps pulled in a multitude of different directions, but Senate Democrats have a serious political problem that will haunt them as they head into an already-difficult election cycle. When these Senate Finance Committee hearings come to pass it would be a remarkable act of bravery and candor for one of these IRS bureaucrats to appropriately ask Max Baucus and others why they’re not sitting at the witness tables next to them, instead of continuing in their charade of faux outrage.{1}

The citizen outrage that has followed these IRS admissions, prompted by the Inspector General Report, can be summarized in one succinct quote from Representative Bill Flores from Texas:

“This administration seems to have a culture of politics above all else.  A lot of the actions they take have a political side first, and put government second.”

Those groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” “9/12,” and other conservatives that have been harassed by Democrats believe this quote could be attributed to most of the Democrats that now sit in our seats in Washington.  It could be attributed, in this case, to those Democrats in the administration that chose to ignore Republican complaints, and it could be attributed to those that wrote the letter that allegedly coerced the IRS into investigating “these outside political organizations.”

It was politics that prompted these Senators to call for greater scrutiny of “political” groups, it is politics that they’re playing right now when they scream for the heads of those that engaged in these nefarious acts that these Senators allegedly coerced them into, and it will be politics that gets them out of this.  But will all the band aids that are applied to these incidents to “prevent them from ever happening again” result in better government, and is that the primary concern of those we currently have representing our views in Washington?

If it’s true that this scandal is limited to “low level officials in Cincinnati” it’s hard to get too angry at them for placing illegal scrutiny on conservatives.  They worked in a climate in which conservatives, and Republicans, aren’t just wrong, they’re evil.  These low level workers apparently thought it was their duty to do whatever it takes to defeat this evil that plagues our land.  Some of them are probably quite shocked at the reaction their getting from Baucus, Schumer, Obama, and Holder.  They probably thought they would be applauded for putting average citizens that had the audacity to think they should have a role in this government for the people and by the people.  These weren’t government approved groups, they had “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” and “9/12” in their name.  Of course they should face the kind of scrutiny that exhausts them out of the political process.

There were some liberal groups that experienced some delays, such as the Action for a Progressive Future.  The co-founder of this liberal group, Jeff Cohen, said tax-exempt status is a privilege, so he didn’t mind answering the intrusive questions that delayed his group’s tax-exempt status for 18 months, as long as those questions were consistent and fair.

“From my perspective,” Cohen said, “If the IRS can hold up legitimate Tea Party applications today and get away with it, then who knows if progressive groups will be held up and specially scrutinized in a few years.  It’s utterly unacceptable, if that’s what happened.” {2}

The key question from this issue, and the Benghazi issue, and the AP issue, is will this notion that Democrats are “just better at running government” survive?  Can all three of these issues be scapegoated to low level employees so that the momentum Democrats used to win the presidency, and the Senate, continue without impediment, and will this eventually blow over in thirty days if they play their politics right?  At this point, even some Democrat loyalists on TV are cringing at the idea that high-level Democrats, at the very least, allowed a climate to exist in Washington that gives credence to the warnings that the skeptics of Obama have been warning about for years.  These same Democrat commentators are saying that these incidents take weight away from Obama’s warning sent to Ohio graduates that they need to reject skeptics.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder will likely escape damage, or if they don’t they won’t care because they can’t be re-elected.  But will Democrats, in general, face a scandal weary post-Watergate style climate in America that could lead to a Republican Senate in 2014, and an “outsider”, Republican version of a Jimmy Carter in the oval office in 2016?  Or will politics spare them from a the anti-government sentiment that Democrat commentator Kirtsten Powers said was growing even before these incidents broke out, or will this all eventually blow over and politics will eventually win the day regardless what happens to the government?

Some say neither.  Some say that most people pay so little attention to politics, or that they have such short attention spans, that this won’t affect any election.  To those people I offer one addendum, and that is that Americans enjoy hearing a high-profile person torn down as much, if not more, than they love a success story.

{1}http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/brian-walsh/2013/05/14/senate-democrats-pushed-for-irs-tea-party-snooping-before-criticizing-it

{2} http://m.usatoday.com/article/news/2158831

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