Op-ed Attempting to Revive IRS Scandal Falls Completely Flat

An op-ed by Bart Hinkle appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this weekend with the ominous title, “IRS scandal implicates Democrats“, suggesting more wrongdoing by high-level Democrats has been found to go along with the zero wrongdoing by high-level Democrats that’s been found regarding this non-scandal.  As with most rhetoric surrounding this situation, it fails miserably to suggest anything new that can be construed as devious, particularly when considering the facts.

One general idea Hinkle makes is just because these groups are spending money and making ads, doesn’t mean they will gain more votes for their favored candidates, which is ludicrous.  I would suggest Hinkle go to any academic database and look at the mountain of research on “name recognition” or just go to any psychologist or advertiser and ask them if repetition works.  Some might point to the recent loss of Eric Cantor despite the huge disparity in campaign spending, but that is the exception, not the rule.  The vast majority of the time elections end with the bigger spender winning.

Hinkle also hints at the heavily debunked idea that the Obama administration had something to do with the targeting:

The U.S. has a long and sordid history of presidents trying to sic the IRS on their political foes; that was even one of the charges of impeachment against Richard Nixon…Granted, the administration did laughably appoint an Obama campaign donor to investigate whether Obama critics had been treated fairly.

First, this suggests that there somehow hasn’t been an investigation to this point.  I’ll assume this is the first time Hinkle has heard of the IRS targeting despite the slew of previous news coverage.  Second, I’m not aware of anyone under oath claiming they have evidence the order to target came from the White House, including the conservative Republican manager overseeing the screening unit.

The main point of the op-ed is that Democrats were sending letters and questioning whether the IRS was properly monitoring these new groups.  I emphasize new because Hinkle fails to note this and he should since it is the main reason the groups were being investigated in the first place.  I’ll quote myself from a previous post on this:

Inspector General J. Russell George suggested in his testimony the IRS made these bad decisions “because of a lack of resources and manpower”.  We also know there was a drastic increase in election spending by 501(c)(4) groups beginning in 2008, where spending went from just over a measly $1 million in 2006 to over $82 million two years later.  This was followed by a continued increase in 2010.

Two things should be noted about the 2010 election spending.  First, it’s rather odd for spending to increase from a presidential election to a midterm.  Just look at the 501(c)(4) spending from the years given in the link or total election costs over the past eight cycles.  Second, conservative versus liberal group spending was not very lopsided until 2010, when conservative groups spent more than double their ideological counterparts.  This was followed in 2012 with conservative groups spending nearly five times what liberal groups spent.

These points taken together give us an idea of what the IRS was up against when it came to enforcing the law: a sudden and unforeseen increase of more than %6000 in election spending by 501(c)(4)s from ’06 to ’08 with a further increase in the ’10 midterms on top of a dwindling workforce and budget to deal with the new problem.

The spending increases, particularly considering the mid-term in 2010, can’t be emphasized enough.  With this explosion in spending, what did people expect the IRS to do?  Ignore it despite evidence the groups were clearly breaking the law?

Which brings me to the last point about Hinkle’s op-ed: his admission yet overlooking of the reality the law was essentially being broken.  His statement:

And remember what terrible offense those groups were committing: They were supporting or opposing candidates for public office, often by buying TV ad time…What Levin, Durbin, Schumer, et al. find outrageous is the fact that some Americans have been speaking about political candidates without those candidates’ authorization. (Emphasis added)

According to the law, these groups can’t support or oppose an individual candidate or engage in campaigns unless it is the minority of their spending.  If they do run ads, they are going to be questioned by the IRS to prove they aren’t spending most of their funds on it.  That’s how proper justice should work here.  And it shouldn’t be surprising the Democrats mentioned were making sure the law was being properly enforced.

This op-ed just looks like another failed attempt to make something out of nothing.  But we all know that will never stop people from trying…

Very Possible (and Very Benign) Explanation for IRS “Scandal”

After thinking about and debating the IRS “scandal” further, some of the pieces of information we have learned about the situation are coming together to form a reasonable picture explaining what might have happened to bring about this ordeal.  And the grand picture might be rather boring and innocuous as the focus of this ongoing investigation begins to shift to why the delays in approving 501(c)(4) groups occurred.

First, we start with two key pieces of info.  Last Thursday, Inspector General J. Russell George suggested in his testimony the IRS made these bad decisions “because of a lack of resources and manpower”.  We also know there was a drastic increase in election spending by 501(c)(4) groups beginning in 2008, where spending went from just over a measly $1 million in 2006 to over $82 million two years later.  This was followed by a continued increase in 2010.

Two things should be noted about the 2010 election spending.  First, it’s rather odd for spending to increase from a presidential election to a midterm.  Just look at the 501(c)(4) spending from the years given in the link or total election costs over the past eight cycles.  Second, conservative versus liberal group spending was not very lopsided until 2010, when conservative groups spent more than double their ideological counterparts.  This was followed in 2012 with conservative groups spending nearly five times what liberal groups spent.

These points taken together give us an idea of what the IRS was up against when it came to enforcing the law: a sudden and unforeseen increase of more than %6000 in election spending by 501(c)(4)s from ’06 to ’08 with a further increase in the ’10 midterms on top of a dwindling workforce and budget to deal with the new problem.

It would seem when 2010 rolled around, the IRS began to realize there was a lot of new spending and much of it was coming from conservative groups, many of which had similar terms in their names.  It should be noted the spending would have started very early on in 2010 and even in late 2009 as the Tea Party was trying to oust fellow Republicans in those primaries.  The decision to then inappropriately use names to target these groups by the understaffed IRS now seems rationale while still ill-advised.

As time goes on, the decision to target by group names slowly makes its way up the ladder and goes through a series of variations along the way, one of them we know from Thursday’s testimony to be Lois Lerner trying to stop the use of names and focus on political advocacy in July 2011.  The higher-ups in the IRS get wind of this and try to remedy the situation but also realize the groups still need scrutiny and still need to be kept within the bounds of the law considering the dramatic increase in election spending.

They ask for a template from the very experienced Carter Hull based on the two cases he was examining and he points out there can be no template because each group is different in how they spend their money and how they operate (again, from Thursday’s testimony).  They send his work to a younger and less experienced employee looking for different ideas on building a usable template to examine the groups more uniformly.  More delay ensues as the IRS scrambles to both carry out the law and do it in a way that appropriately scrutinizes the groups they must oversee.

I would argue this is not only a very plausible chain of events based on what we know for sure at this point but it would also explain why everyone that has testified has had no doubt the targeting and the actions taken by the IRS were not politically motivated in any way.

The poor choices of the IRS still warrant a thorough investigation and more time will give us more details.  But a clearer picture may be emerging as to why this situation played out the way it did and, in the end, we may be yawning and rolling our eyes at the lackluster outcome.

Issa and Fox News Continuing to Embarrass Themselves Over IRS Targeting

As the right continues to try to make the IRS’ bad behavior look political, they are seemingly doing nothing more than making themselves look foolish.  Fox News posted two articles at the end of the week (here and here) trying to further suggest the many times debunked notion the mistakes can be traced back to the White House and Darrell Issa also posted an op-ed in the USA Today eluding to the same.  Most of their new argument is based on Thursday’s testimony of two IRS employees, one of which linked the review of groups to the Office of Chief Counsel, who is an Obama appointee.

I suppose this was intended to be breaking news and something new for the country to look at regarding the ongoing investigation.  Just one problem: we already knew the Chief Counsel was involved over two months ago.  Call it lazy research.  Call it an omission.  Call it biased reporting.  Call it what you want.  It just looks ridiculous.

If you look at page 42 of the TIGTA’s report from May 14, 2013, the first entry in the timeline for August 4, 2011, the report clearly states:

Rulings and Agreements office personnel held a meeting with Chief Counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue. (Emphasis added)

Breaking news folks!  The team at Fox has made it most of the way through one report released 9 weeks ago!  Congrats guys!

As for Mr. Issa, he continues to plant the seed that the targeting was political and goes to the White House at any chance he gets.  In his op-ed, he questions:

Was the targeting of Tea Party applicants directed from the White House or somewhere else outside the IRS?

He then suggests judgement should be withheld until all the info is in but the implication is clear.  There are many ways to word that question and make that point but he clearly refuses to stop linking the scandal to the White House despite having zero evidence.

If you have been paying close attention to the scandal and watched the 5 hours of testimony Thursday, you’ll notice an evolution in the argument coming from the right.  At first, they suggested the targeting itself was political but that has been debunked beyond any doubt at this point and there is no longer an argument there considering the mountain of evidence against it.

Now the argument is the delay in giving the non-profit groups approval was political.  And it turns out this argument may be showing the hypocrisy of the right considering they might be the side that created the problem that led to the delays.

Representative Carolyn Maloney-D, New York.

If you watch the testimony of the Inspector General from Thursday and skip to questioning from Republican Rep. Tim Walberg at around the 46:00 mark, you’ll see him getting an answer he probably didn’t want regarding the delay.  He brings up how some of the work was shifted from an experienced IRS employee to another greener employee and the IG jumps in and points out:

I would just add, Congressman, given the fiscal constraints facing the entire nation, but especially those confronting the Internal Revenue Service, I am not surprised that they would have made a decision like that and they’re, unfortunately, going to have to continue to make some of these…haphazard-types of decisions because of a lack of resources and manpower. (Emphasis added)

In other words, the old conservative strategy of “starving the beast” has worked perfectly for them in that it has created underfunded agencies incapable of doing the work imposed on them by the government and now they get to yell “fire” where they lit the match.

Another tactic of the right in the first testimony was to demonize Lois Lerner further.  So, what do the IG investigators think of Lerner’s actions during their testimony?  She was actually helpful and trying to fix the problem.  When Republican Tim Walberg asked about her actions he received this response (44:47 mark):

Well, she (Lerner) was trying to fix the problem.  She…recognized, then, that these criteria were inappropriate, to use any names regardless of political party, and she was trying to fix it.

She might not have been perfect, but it certainly seems like she wasn’t as bad as the right is making her out to be.

There are two other exchanges I would encourage people to watch from the IG testimony.  The first (at 2:10:12) is Democrat Carolyn Maloney holding up and showing the training manual from the IRS that encourages employees to look for terms like “Republican, Democrat, donkey, elephant, Tea Party, and progressives.”  The IG explains he just received the document last week so this was not included in earlier testimony and reports from his office.

Representative Tony Cardenas-D, California.

The second (at 2:18:16) tip of the hat goes to Democrat Tony Cardenas of California.  He simply asks the IG to identify if he has any evidence regarding accusations by Republicans, such as Representatives Issa and Rogers and Senators McConnell and Cruz, and if any of those outlandish claims have any truth to them.  Answer: nope.  Nicely done Mr. Cardenas!

I’ve said before the IRS acted poorly in this situation but the evidence continues to mount that none of the wrongdoing was political in nature.  And as this evidence mounts, the folks on the right trying to reach for anything they can to prove what isn’t true just look more and more ridiculous as time goes on.  Keep up the good work Fox and Issa!  We surely enjoy watching you show the world your true colors!

Highlights of IRS Manager’s Testimony: What Issa Doesn’t Want us to Know

The full transcript of the testimony of the IRS manager in charge of the screening unit for 501 c 4 groups was released yesterday in two parts (part one here, part two here) against the wishes of House Oversight Committee Chairman and witch-hunter/fear-monger, Darrell Issa.  The testimony speaks for itself so let’s have it do the talking.

(The “Q”s are the questions from the committee and the “A”s are the manager’s answers.)

From page 28, regarding the manager’s party affiliation:

Q    What’s your party affiliation?

A    I am a conservative Republican.

From page 61, regarding personal/political views coming into play in screening:

Q    …was it your impression that (name withheld) flagged the case, the Tea Party case for you on February 25th, 2010, because of his disagreement with their political views of the group?

A    We…never discussed…any political…personal aspirations whatsoever.  His determination of the case was that…we needed additional information that was not complete and that the fact that he recognized that it had been something that had been in the media, that we may want it to make sure that…EO Technical didn’t believe this was…warranting a high profile decision.

Q    Did you decide to elevate the case…because you disagreed with the political views of the Tea Party organization in the application?

A    No, I did not.

From page 75, regarding pulling certain cases based on name of group:

A    So, in answer to your question, no, I did not instruct that if you had “Tea Party” in a case that it would automatically go to another group for screening…

Q    You wouldn’t instruct your screeners to pull out all of the cases just because they had “Tea Party” in their name?

A    Not to my knowledge.

From page 79, regarding searching for certain criteria:

Q    So is being in the Tea Party movement or being a Tea Party organization part of the criteria used to identify similar cases to the February 25th case identified?

A    There was no criteria.  Each case is again reviewed and the determination is made on the facts and circumstances within that case.

Q    You stated previously you didn’t tell anyone to do a search.  How did you expect your screeners to identify similar cases?

A    …if a screener has…the ability to do a search, I really was not able to control their thought pattern or their initiative…

Q    You didn’t give the specific instruction?

A    I did not say go out and search.

In other words, even if the targeting was political by an individual screener, the order was not given from his superior.

From page 103, again regarding whether a criteria-based order was given to single out cases for review:

A    It was not a criteria-based anything.  It was…what issues are you finding.

From page 105, regarding what the screeners could do with cases in terms of follow-up on a regular basis:

Q    What does secondary screening mean?

A    Secondary screening would be looking at a case that hopefully we could merit closed, and we would send it to secondary screening for someone to take a look at who had more time than my initial screeners…So because my screeners were not in a position of even picking up the phone to verify an issue, it was sent on in many instances in other areas to secondary screening.

In other words, the people initially picking the cases out for further review had little to do with what happened next so the idea they could successfully target groups politically and know what was going to happen after that is very slim.  The screeners had no control over whether a group definitively received more scrutiny but could recommend a further review for potential followup.

From page 108, regarding manager meetings on political targeting:

Q    Do you recall ever discussing in this early time period from February 2010 to May 2010 the Tea Party cases at these manager level meetings?

A    I do not.

From pages 110-111, regarding the manager’s responsibility of screening the cases:

A    My function, again, was to look at these initial cases within a span of a few days and put them in the proper bucket and just go on with my work.  Whatever went on after I bucketed these cases, it was what it was.  I was not intimately involved in any of that.

Not only did the screeners have no control over the extended review process and whether it really happened, neither did the manager.  In other words, with the checks and balances in place in the IRS, even if political targeting went on at the initial phase, it could easily be stamped out going into the next step which would also not be the last needed to send out the questionnaires some groups received.

From pages 140-141, regarding whether the manager believed the White House was involved:

Q    In your opinion, was the decision to screen and centralize the review of Tea Party cases the targeting of the President’s political enemies?

A    I do not believe that the screening of the cases had anything to do other that consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development….

Q    Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen Tea Party cases?

A    I have no reason to believe that.

Q    Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to centralize the review of Tea Party cases?

A    I have no reason to believe that.

Finally, from page 176, after being asked about the “criteria” referencing Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 Project:

A    This…is not my criteria.  I have said before I asked the three senior agents in my group, when they reviewed cases, what would they look for for a potential auto revocation case.  (Emphasis added)

In other words, the words used for the criteria did not come from above but actually came from below the manager, further reinforcing the fact the White House had nothing to with it and was not doing this to target political enemies.

As I’ve said before, the IRS picked a bad way to select cases for a period of time and it has been corrected.  But this was never at any point politically motivated.  End of story.

 

Death Knell Has Been Sounded: IRS Scandal Just Wasn’t Political

Two things can safely be pointed out about the IRS scandal after more and more information has been released about it:

  • The agency made extremely bad and somewhat amateurish decisions on how they conducted their follow-ups on 501c4s.
  • And more importantly, it wasn’t political.Sorry, conservatives.  Not a political scandal here.

The pundits can try as hard as they want to attempt to trace this up to the Oval Office but they have failed and continue to fail miserably doing that.  And the reason is because there is no trail going there.

We found out from ProPublica two important points a few weeks ago.  First:

Of the more than $256 million spent by social welfare nonprofits on ads in the 2012 elections, at least 80 percent came from conservative groups.

And second:

Some social welfare groups promised in their applications, under penalty of perjury, that they wouldn’t get involved in elections. Then they did just that.

In other words, there should have been a heavier emphasis on conservative groups since they were responsible for the vast majority of the election spending coming from 501c4s and some of them did exactly what they said they would not do, which justifiably opens the door for further scrutiny by the IRS.

Then the NYT did a study of many of the groups and found they were, in fact, violating their tax status and deserved more intensive investigations.  Of particular interest in this article is the bit about Emerge America, a group on the left politically that lost its tax exempt status last year.  Look at why they lost theirs then question why some of the conservative groups are still allowed theirs.  It’s a fair question and should be answered honestly.

And yesterday we find out the IRS manager who made the call to investigate the groups further, John Shafer, describes himself as a conservative Republican and admits the White House was not involved.

Investigators asked Shafer if he believed the decision to centralize the screening of Tea Party applications was intended to target “the president’s political enemies.”

“I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do, other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development,” the manager answered, according to a transcript released by Cummings.

Asked if he believed the White House was involved, the manager replied: “I have no reason to believe that.”

This situation is only a political scandal if the targeting was in any way political.  The facts are clearly showing beyond any doubt that it simply was not political.  The bad behavior should still be investigated so it does not occur again since everyone agrees it should never have happened.  But this scandal was not political and that side of the story is dead.  Time to move on.

IRS Scandal Beginning to Looking Less and Less Scandalous

As more and more info leaks its way out about the IRS targeting certain conservative groups, we must begin to ask: was the organization doing its job as it was asked by law?  The Atlantic has pointed out Congress was pressuring the IRS to do more investigating of these types of groups in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision in early 2010.  It was after this decision was handed down that the creation of these groups exploded compared to previous years.

Scandal or “scandal”?

This article from CNN states “the number of 501(c)(4) applications more than doubled to over 3,400 in 2012, compared to 1,500 in 2010” and of those 300 were targeted for more investigation and of those 75 contained the words “tea party” or “patriot”.  (25 of the 300 have withdrawn their applications.  No word on how many were in the group of 75.)  When the numbers are taken into account along with the fact the head of the IRS at the time of all this was an appointee of the previous administration, it begins to look a little less devious.

But there is more.  One of the realities of 501(c)(4) groups is the fact they cannot spend their time and resources campaigning for or against specific political candidates, as the law states.  And as the number of groups has greatly expanded, so has the money they have spent on elections, as Ezra Klein pointed out:

501(c)4s spent $92 million in the 2010 election. They spent $254 million in the 2012 election.

So if the number of new groups more than doubles and the amount of money spent on the area these groups would be watched most closely more than doubles, wouldn’t the IRS be scrutinizing them more closely?

And it should be pointed out the Tea Party has been impressive in its size and growth over the past four years.  Putting this all together, we should expect them to be a larger portion of closer scrutiny and being %25 of the 300 groups receiving further investigation would probably seem a proper ratio.

In fact, a Washington Post article on the situation from yesterday mentions the Richmond Tea Party as being one of the groups picked for further questioning.  Remember, these groups are strictly prohibited from supporting any candidates in elections.  Yet this is posted on their website reminding people there is “Fifteen days left to help get Jamie Radtke on the ballot”.  From an organization’s perspective that is charged with making sure these groups do not support specific candidates, what does that look like to you?

Plenty of information will be coming out as this “scandal” unfolds but if the early info is any indication, this might not be as big a scandal as it seems when all is said and done.