Did the IRS take it upon itself to enforce lèse-majesté — or did the White House demand it? USA Today uncovered internal IRS documents from 2011 that show targeting of groups for “anti-Obama rhetoric” and “emotional” statements by non-profits:
Newly uncovered IRS documents show the agency flagged political groups based on the content of their literature, raising concerns specifically about “anti-Obama rhetoric,” inflammatory language and “emotional” statements made by non-profits seeking tax-exempt status.
The internal 2011 documents, obtained by USA TODAY, list 162 groups by name, with comments by Internal Revenue Service lawyers in Washington raising issues about their political, lobbying and advocacy activities. In 21 cases, those activities were characterized as “propaganda.”
The 2011 date has one interesting parallel. Two years ago (almost to the day), the White House rolled out its own version of a lèse-majesté intimidation mechanism — “Attack Watch.” That didn’t last long in the sunlight, after widespread criticism and derision forced the White House to shelve it, although the Obama campaign tried to bring it back in February 2012 as the “Truth Team.”
So, did the IRS just feel inspired by Attack Watch, or did the White House just transfer the effort? The date on the IRS document is November 16, 2011, well after Attack Watch became more or less moribund in the public eye.
Supposedly, the IRS was concerned about “propaganda” in its attempt to enforce 501(c)(4) status, but the actual tax law doesn’t mention “propaganda” as a barrier to tax-exempt status:
“The political motivations of this are so patently obvious, but then to have a document that spells it out like this is very damaging to the IRS,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the ACLJ. “I hope the FBI has seen these documents.”
The IRS categorized the groups as engaging in several advocacy-related activities that could have barred them from tax-exempt status, such as lobbying and “propaganda.”
But the word “propaganda” doesn’t appear in section 501(c)(4), which governs the social welfare status that most Tea Party groups were applying for, said John Colombo, a law professor at the University of Illinois. Instead, it appears in section 501(c)(3), which governs public charities.
“There would be no reason I would think to flag them if it’s for a 501(c)(4) status,” Colombo said. “That’s very odd to me.”
The IRS targeted 162 groups in this effort, of which only 11 were liberal groups, according to USA Today. Jeff Dunetz predicts that Democrats in Congress will claim that this demonstrates even-handedness by the IRS, but don’t be fooled:
Liberals will be happy to learn that out of the 162 groups mentioned on the 2011 documents at least 11 of them are progressive organizations, giving them the ability to say, “See they weren’t targeting conservative groups.” …
What the report doesn’t show is which of these groups eventually were approved and the difference in waiting times between the conservative and progressive organizations. Either way the ratio of conservative/progressive organizations targeted indicate that there was something rotten going on in the IRS offices in DC.
When the IRS starts targeting political dissent for scrutiny, they have stopped being a revenue collector and have become instead a political enforcer. That’s dangerous for all Americans, and Congress needs to demand and enforce immediate reform in the IRS. They also need to find out who ordered the targeting, regardless of how high up it goes.