IRS inspector general: No, liberal groups weren't "targeted" the way tea-party groups were

Righties on Twitter are citing this as proof that, contra desperate liberal claims, the scandal’s not over yet. Isn’t the real significance of this that it makes the scandal worse? Three days ago, the IRS’s new acting director hinted that the agency had been targeting progressives too, a claim supposedly confirmed by the IRS’s latest report to Congress. Lefties naturally took that to be a smoking gun that there was never any political bias. Now here comes IG Russell George to say that, according to his audit, it’s all basically a lie:

“Our audit did not find evidence that the IRS used the ‘progressives’ identifier as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012,” George wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.

The inspector general also stressed that 100 percent of the groups with “Tea Party,” “patriots” and “9/12” in their name were flagged for extra attention.

“While we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria we described in our report, including employee interviews, e-mails and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that ‘progressives’ was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention,” George wrote to Levin, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee…

George’s letter says that the “progressive” identifier on BOLO lists was not in a section used for selecting potential political cases, and that the IRS had developed inappropriate criteria to flag Tea Party applicants as potentially political.

According to George, six of the 20 progressive groups that applied for tax-exemption between 2010 and 2012 received close scrutiny. Of the 292 tea-party groups that applied, … all 292 did. In fact, didn’t the IRS claim that it started flagging tea-party applications systematically in 2010 because the movement was exploding and groups’ applications for exemption were piling up? (That was a lie too, but that was their story.) That’s the supposed “nonpolitical” explanation for all this — the tea-party movement was unique in how quickly it rose and how widely it spread and therefore the agency had to look closely to make sure groups weren’t violating 501(c)(4) all over the country by meddling in campaigns. If that’s the left’s preferred narrative for what happened, then why would they think progressive groups were targeted equally or at all? There was, and is, no lefty equivalent of the movement. You can believe that institutional bias against conservatives was at work here or you can believe that tea partiers, due to the movement’s size and its interest in primaries, deserved extra scrutiny under the rules against campaigning by “social welfare” groups. The “progressives were targeted too” theory doesn’t fit with either. Especially when you remember that the president’s own political shop, Organizing for Action, somehow remains a 501(c)(4) in good standing.

Eliana Johnson explained two days ago what the new IRS report really said about progressives being “targeted”:

The term “progressive” was flagged in a general warning to agency screeners — one that remained on the list throughout the time in question — that the applications of progressive organizations may not merit 501(c)(3) designation, which prohibits groups from engaging in political activity. That warning, according to an IRS source familiar with the review process, did not prevent first-line screeners from recommending an application be approved.

The same lists, between August 2010 and February 2012, directed screeners by default to send tea-party applications to a special group for further review and for coordination with lawyers in Washington, D.C. “They are different,” says the agency source of the designations made for progressive and tea-party groups.

Also, she notes, don’t forget that tea partiers weren’t flagged exclusively through the term “tea party.” The IRS’s be-on-the-lookout list metamorphosed to include issues of concern to tea partiers, like paying down the national debt. If the political scrutiny was impartial and evenhanded, where are the BOLOs for groups that, say, oppose entitlement reform or want to raise taxes?

But back to my question up top. Why was Danny Werfel, the new IRS director and Obama political ally, out there on Monday nudging the media to believe that progressives somehow were put through the wringer too? You know why: Because, with politics momentarily consumed with Snowdenmania and Supreme Court rulings, the time is ripe to try to put this scandal to bed. I’m not sold on the idea of a special prosecutor, but if they’re going to stoop to this level of obfuscation even now, after they’ve cleaned house lightly dusted, maybe that’s the only way forward.