It may not be the only case, or even the most pressing case, in need of an independent investigation, but there’s little doubt the targeting of White House opponents by the IRS needs a lot more sunlight than the Obama administration has thus far provided. Republican Governors Association chair Bobby Jindal and vice-chair Scott Walker demanded a special prosecutor to start an investigation of the expanding scandal:
Two Republican governors are urging President Barack Obama to appoint aspecial prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s admission that it targetedconservative political groups.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker call the allegations “Big Brother come to life.”
They want a special prosecutor to find out if any laws were broken and say Obama should fire any IRS employees responsible for the situation.
Under normal circumstances, I’d recoil at the suggestion. Special prosecutors are a great idea in theory, but usually terrible in practice. Theoretically, the investigation owes nothing to anyone and can probe everywhere without fear of retribution — and that’s pretty much been true. However, it also means that special prosecutors can turn into loose cannons that lose sight of their original portfolio and start looking for any reason to justify their existence … and that’s also pretty much been true of special prosecutors in high-profile cases.
If the Department of Justice operates normally, any investigations into corruption should take place there, where accountability in both legal and political terms apply. Unfortunately, the DoJ under Eric Holder isn’t operating normally. It just conducted a broad raid on the records of more than 100 Associated Press reporters in an attempt to identify sources and intimidate the nation’s largest wire service. That secret raid should also be investigated, and probably needs a special prosecutor even more urgently than the IRS scandal.
Meanwhile, ABC News provides a list of the most outrageous and weird demands made by the IRS of conservative groups seeking legitimate tax exemption for their work. The whole list should be reviewed, but a few really deserve special mention:
- “Please provide copies of all your current web pages, including your Blog posts. Please provide copies of all of your newsletters, bulletins, flyers, newsletters or any other media or literature you have disseminated to your members or others. Please provide copies of stories and articles that have been published about you.”
First, can anyone imagine an IRS agent actually reading through all of the requested material? It’s absurd. (How can anyone provide with any certainty all of the “stories and articles that have been published about you”?) This was clearly an obstructionist demand designed to frustrate and block conservatives from organizing effectively and legally.
Here’s another in the same vein:
- “Do your issue-related advocacy communications compare to the positions of candidates or slates of candidates on these issues with your positions? Provide copies of these communications. What percentage do these constitute of your issue-related advocacy communications?”
Do conservative political positions correspond to the positions of conservative candidates? Not as often as we’d like perhaps, but, er …. duh. Is the IRS position that only those organizations whose positions aren’t taken by any candidates at all are eligible for tax exemption? If so, maybe they’d like to explain the exemption for Organizing for America.
There’s also this ambiguity, emphasis mine:
- “Apart from your responses to the preceding, estimate the percentage of your time and what percentage of your resources you will devote to activities in the 2012 election cycle, in which you will explicitly or implicitly support or oppose a candidate, candidates or slates of candidates, for public office.”
Define “implicitly.” Does this again mean having mainstream political positions is a disqualifier for tax-exempt status? On the other hand, sometimes the questions got uncomfortably specific:
- “Provide details regarding your relationship with Justin Binik-Thomas.” (a Cincinnati-area Tea-Party activist)
Subtext: Justin Binik-Thomas is an unperson, and we’re watching both him and you.
This may be many things, but liberty it ain’t. We may need a whole passel of prosecutors when this is over.