Could the situation at the IRS get any worse? McClatchy joins CBS News in postulating that the scandal may well expand to more than just applications for tax-exempt status. Both news agencies are starting to take complaints about predatory and punitive audits and other actions and put them into a very ugly pattern — and ask some very difficult questions of the Obama administration:
While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.
The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.
Former IRS leaders have apologized for inappropriate scrutiny of conservative organizations. They haven’t to date, however, divulged who developed the criteria, how they were developed or when and how they extended to groups associated with conservative causes that didn’t have “tea party,” “patriot” or similar catchwords in their names.
Widening congressional investigations and federal lawsuits are likely to reveal more about the scope and intent of the inappropriate treatment of conservative groups by the IRS. The House Ways and Means Committee plans a hearing Tuesday to allow victims to testify for the first time. In earlier hearings, one IRS official pleaded the Fifth to avoid answering questions.
McClatchy includes the case of Catherine Engelbrecht, which CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson co-reported yesterday. That case, of course, goes far beyond the IRS; Engelbrecht’s business got harassed by the FBI, ATF, and OSHA as well, which would mean coordination far above the Treasury Department. They also include the case of an anti-abortion group that was told they couldn’t picket Planned Parenthood locations if they wanted to keep their exemption, and a Nebraska veteran who got hassled in an IRS audit over his donations to his church once he began donating to conservative causes.
That may end up being the undercard next week, however. The House Oversight Committee will hold hearings over the next two weeks to take testimony from the low-level employees in Cincinnati that Lois Lerner and her former bosses Douglas Shulman and Steven Miller tried to turn into scapegoats:
House investigators will interview four Internal Revenue Service employees over the next two weeks, POLITICO has learned.
The House Ways and Means and Oversight committees hope the four front-line employees from the agency’s Cincinnati office will help lawmakers better understand how the IRS targeting of conservative groups first began.
A committee aide declined to name the employees to be interviewed. But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said earlier this month he wants the IRS to make available five employees for transcribed interviews including John Shafer, a screening group manager, Gary Muthert, a screener in the tax-exempt division, Liz Hofacre, a former case coordinator from April to October 2010, and Joseph Herr, a former advocacy group manager.
What will be the likelihood that these five will fall on swords and swear that no one told them to target these groups? I’d put the odds on the low side for that outcome.
In March of 2012 the Human Rights Campaign published a confidential tax return of the National Organization for Marriage, which was immediately republished byThe Huffington Post and other liberal news media outlets. The HRC and NOM are the leading national groups on opposing sides of the fight over gay marriage. HRC wants to redefine marriage to make it genderless, while NOM wishes to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
My organization was not the only conservative-linked political group or business that appears to have faced shady actions from IRS employees. ProPublica reported this week that the IRS handed over to them confidential documents of nine conservative organizations whose applications for non-profit status were still pending. Among them: Crossroads GPS, a key group backing Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Our case was particularly egregious because the IRS leak of confidential information fed directly into an ongoing political battle. For months before March 2012, the pro-gay marriage HRC had been demanding that my group, NOM, publicly identify its major donors, something that NOM and many other non-profits refuse to do. The reason is simple. In the past, gay marriage advocates have used such information to launch campaigns of intimidation against traditional marriage supporters. …
At this stage, nobody is accusing the White House or the Obama re-election campaign of illegal activity. But there is a serious question about whether there was communication or possible collusion between the IRS and the HRC, and if there was, whether anyone at the White House or the Obama re-election campaign was involved.
It is imperative that congressional investigators get to the bottom of the issue. If the IRS can get away with leaking NOM’s confidential tax return to its chief political opponent, then no taxpayer is safe from political retribution by the federal government.
The retribution part has already been established. We need to know who ordered it, and how that information got networked.