Liberal groups: We weren't targeted for extra scrutiny

When presented with an opportunity to present their own witnesses at House hearings on the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, Democrats declined — and now we know why.  According to McClatchy, no liberal groups felt targeted or harassed by the IRS during the same period that conservative groups were being told to disclose their prayer life and pledge not to protest at abortion mills:

The storm over the Internal Revenue Service’s dealings with groups seeking tax-exempt status is now nearly a month old, and virtually no organizations perceived to be liberal or nonpartisan have come forward to say they were unfairly targeted since then.

Some have been rejected for special status, but groups both denied and given exemptions contacted by McClatchy said they thought the scrutiny they got was fair.

“During the Bush administration we often thought the IRS was not doing enough, so the scrutiny we got was fair,” said Liz Wally, the executive director of Clean Elections Texas. The nonpartisan group and its education fund, which promote public financing of elections, received tax-exempt status within months of applying in 2010.

When the House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Tuesday from aggrieved organizations, all were conservative. Democrats were invited to have witnesses but declined.

In other words, Democrats really didn’t want to have to put on display the differences in treatment between the two kinds of groups. For instance:

Progress Texas, which bills itself as “communicating progressive values,” is based in the capital city of Austin. Eleven months after it applied for tax exempt status in March 2011, it received a nine-page, 21-question letter from Lois Lerner, the IRS executive who was placed on administrative leave recently after she refused to answer questions from Congress. …

His group wasn’t asked all the same questions that were asked of True the Vote, which has close ties to conservatives and, like Progress Texas, a mission to keep an eye out for voter irregularities. In February 2012, the IRS sought data on “all of your activity on Facebook and Twitter,” as well as detailed questions about whom the group recruits.

Still, the decision to leave the field to just the real victims has had an impact on perception of the IRS.  A new CBS News/NY Times poll shows that more than two-thirds of respondents — including 60% of Democrats — think the IRS believe political bias drove the extra scrutiny.  However, the poll splits nearly evenly on whether the White House was involved in the effort:

Most Americans regardless of party believe political reasons drove the Internal Revenue Service to single out for burdensome and unnecessary scrutiny some conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll out Thursday. The public splits across party lines, though, about whether President Obama and his administration were involved.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents- 80 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents – said they think the IRS targeting was motivated by politics, rather than adherence to the tax code policy. But while forty-four percent think the Obama administration had a hand in the targeting, 40 percent said they believe the agency acted on its own.

There are partisan differences: 70 percent of Republicans think the Obama administration was involved – a belief shared by only 19 percent of Democrats. Sixty-five percent of Democrats said they think the IRS acted independently.

For some reason, CBS doesn’t mention the independents on that question (neither does the NYT); more data will come out this evening from the poll.  The 44/40 split on White House involvement is interesting, and dangerous for the Obama administration.  Given that no evidence has yet linked the White House to the IRS targeting, the assumption seems to be heading in that direction anyway, which makes the scandal an acute problem for the Obama administration.  If subsequent testimony starts to name some people in the West Wing with at least awareness of the targeting, that 68% will start to influence that 44% number, and fast.

Oh, and as for the Jim McDermott et al strategy of blaming the victims, the poll also finds that only 26% of respondents think that the IRS did nothing wrong.  Good luck trying to win elections with that demographic alone.