Selective “incompetence” in IRS scandal

posted at 8:41 am on May 15, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

After the report from the Inspector General dropped yesterday in the IRS scandal, some media outlets seized on the analysis within it that incompetence and poor training led agents to target conservative groups for excessive scrutiny and harassment.  If so, an analysis by USA Today shows that to be a rather selective form of incompetence.  While applications for Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations got held up for years, progressive groups had no such trouble:

In February 2010, the Champaign Tea Party in Illinois received approval of its tax-exempt status from the IRS in 90 days, no questions asked.

That was the month before the Internal Revenue Service started singling out Tea Party groups for special treatment. There wouldn’t be another Tea Party application approved for 27 months.

In that time, the IRS approved perhaps dozens of applications from similar liberal and progressive groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows.

As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like “Progress” or “Progressive,” the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.

Reporter Gregory Korte lists three groups that managed to avoid all of the scrutiny applied by the IRS to check to see whether conservative groups would engage at all in the political process. Needless to say, the IRS’ tax-exempt unit didn’t have the same concerns with these three:

• Bus for Progress, a New Jersey non-profit that uses a red, white and blue bus to “drive the progressive change.” According to its website, its mission includes “support (for) progressive politicians with the courage to serve the people’s interests and make tough choices.” It got an IRS approval as a social welfare group in April 2011.

• Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment says it fights against corporate welfare and for increasing the minimum wage. “It would be fair to say we’re on the progressive end of the spectrum,” said executive director Jeff Ordower. He said the group got tax-exempt status in September 2011 in just nine months after “a pretty simple, straightforward process.”

• Progress Florida, granted tax-exempt status in January 2011, is lobbying the Florida Legislature to expand Medicaid under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, one of President Obama’s signature accomplishments. The group did not return phone calls. “We’re busy fighting to build a more progressive Florida and cannot take your call right now,” the group’s voice mail said.

Oh, and here’s another, as the Daily Caller pointed out:

Lois Lerner, the senior IRS official at the center of the decision to target tea party groups for burdensome tax scrutiny, signed paperwork granting tax-exempt status to the Barack H. Obama Foundation, a shady charity headed by the president’s half-brother that operated illegally for years.

According to the organization’s filings, Lerner approved the foundation’s tax status within a month of filing, an unprecedented timeline that stands in stark contrast to conservative organizations that have been waiting for more than three years, in some cases, for approval.

Lerner also appears to have broken with the norms of tax-exemption approval by granting retroactive tax-exempt status to Malik Obama’s organization.

The National Legal and Policy Center filed an official complaint with the IRS in May 2011 asking why the foundation was being allowed to solicit tax-deductible contributions when it had not even applied for an IRS determination. In a New York Post article dated May 8, 2011, an officer of the foundation admitted, “We haven’t been able to find someone with the expertise” to apply for tax-exempt status.

Nevertheless, a month later, the Barack H. Obama Foundation had flown through the grueling application process. Lerner granted the organization a 501(c) determination and even gave it a retroactive tax exemption dating back to December 2008.

Well … that seems mighty competent, does it not?

Recall the questions that ABC News discovered that the IRS wanted conservative groups to answer before getting their tax exemption?

  •  “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.”
  • “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?”
  • “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.”

Either we’re dealing with a highly selective incompetence that just so happened to only impact conservative groups for 27 months, or the IRS deliberately chose to apply that scrutiny on only one side of the aisle.  The odds of the former being true are, needless to say, so astronomical that we’d be better off buying lottery tickets — and assuming the IRS would miss it if we won the jackpot.


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