Jim McDermott to tea-party groups: You brought this IRS scrutiny on yourselves by applying for tax exemption, you know

If you’re going to step in the ring with your government, you should expect to get punched in the face. And by “step in the ring,” I of course mean “avail yourself of the same perfectly legal tax strategies that are routinely permitted to liberal nonprofits.” I confess, while I expected some stupid and predictable Democratic scandal spin this week, I didn’t expect to watch a congressman indirectly defend government discrimination on grounds that the victims could have avoided it by simply not asserting their statutory rights in the first place. And yet here we are.

That’s not the only problem with this, per Joel Pollak:

If the IRS scandal lacked a bully figure, it has one now. McDermott repeated the same attacks on 501(c)4 organizations that other Democrats have recycled in their talking points since the scandal began. But he made the mistake of attacking the witnesses–and misrepresenting the testimony of at least one in particular. All of them, he said, were before Congress because they had been seeking tax subsidies; but as Dr. John Eastman of the National Organization for Marriage–already a tax-exempt organization–had just testified, his specific complaint was about the apparently criminal leak of their donors’ names to a liberal organization…

The basic–and deliberate–fault in McDermott’s attack is the idea that being denied tax-exempt status does not mean being denied freedom of speech and assembly. It certainly does in a context in which applications for tax-exempt status were followed by intrusive questions about speech (and prayer!), and also, in some cases, further investigation of donors and organizers by the IRS and other federal agencies, creating a chilling effect. And, of course, if the government is seen to favor some groups and not others, that effectively discourages certain kinds of speech and assembly. The issue at stake remains constitutional liberty, not tax exemption.

McDermott’s garbage can’t even be salvaged by turnng it into a feeble “hypocrisy” argument. Tea partiers support lower taxes; go figure that they’d find tax exemption attractive for their nonprofit groups. If you’re going to make a point as dumb as this one about certain groups declining to seek the 501(c)(4) status to which they’re otherwise entitled, ask progressive nonprofits who support higher federal revenue in virtually all other instances why they’re not leading by example here.

By the way, if you missed it at Politico, Issa’s investigation of the IRS is creeping higher up the ladder:

Investigators from the House Ways and Means Committee are now eyeing Joseph Grant — a top IRS official who officially retired on Monday — and his role, if any, in efforts to target conservative nonprofits. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has claimed that the IRS agents’ actions “were directly being ordered from Washington.”

Grant could prove a key steppingstone in the GOP drive to link the IRS controversy to officials inside the Obama administration. Based in D.C., Grant was the head of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division until he announced his decision to leave the IRS last month…

“He is definitely someone we’ve been interested in,” a Ways and Means Committee staffer involved in the IRS probe said of Grant, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our investigation has been looking at all of the players and Joseph Grant was in charge of the exempt organization division, above [Director of Exempt Organizations Lois] Lerner. Clearly, his knowledge or however he was involved, whether it was telling people to cut it out … that is something we’re looking at … He is definitely involved in the same way Miller and Lerner are involved, but we don’t have a good grasp on the role.”

Grant, you may recall, announced he was “retiring” a few weeks ago. Supposedly he learned about the targeting of conservative groups last April and, like everyone else involved in this fiasco, forgot to mention it publicly until last month. Two clips for you here, one of McDermott and the other via the Washington Free Beacon of Paul Ryan laying into him for his nonsense.