The IRS Tea Party “scandal” has taken a couple of body blows in the last week.
First, it emerged that a self-professed “conservative Republican” in the Cincinnati office was responsible for the targeting of Tea Party groups back in 2010 (when a George W. Bush appointee, by the way, was in charge of the IRS), that the White House had nothing to do with that targeting, and that Republicans leading the congressional investigation prevented that testimony from emerging while leaking all sorts of other stuff to the press.
Now it turns out, ahem, that the Tea Party was not the only group flagged for further review by the Cincy IRS. Other keywords that triggered extra scrutiny included progressive, occupy, Israel, open source software, medical marijuana, occupied territory advocacy, and, one presumes, nonprofit journalism.
Bloomberg News has the best run-down of the latest development:
The documents don’t show that Tea Party groups and progressives were treated equally. In fact, they suggest that the entries on the BOLO derived from separate efforts to police applications for tax-exempt status for political activity…
On the document released by Democrats, the reference to progressives is in a different section than the Tea Party groups, and it doesn’t direct employees to send the cases to a special unit, unlike the Tea Party cases.
Even on the first BOLO released, from August 2010, progressives are listed under the label of TAG Historical, short for Touch-and-Go Historical, or issues that had been raised in the past. Tea Party is listed under Emerging Issues.
Progressive groups were filed under “Touch-and-Go Historical”, meaning a group that had been reviewed in the past but could be problematic. Tea Party groups were filed under Emerging Issues, which is how my reporting
last fall two falls ago showed nonprofit news groups were treated as a class by the IRS’s Cincinnati office:
The agency processes tens of thousands of nonprofit applications a year from its Cincinnati office. Most are routinely processed in two to three months, but some with novel issues are bundled together and sent to Washington for further study. The IRS flagged nonprofit news because of the increasing applications and because it has historically resisted giving newspapers, or publications that seem like newspapers, tax-exempt status, Owens says.
Rather than the Nixonian conspiracy that George Will and The Wall Street Journal editorial page so darkly warned about—with zero evidence—you have a routine bureaucratic procedure meant to bundle potentially problematic applicants together for further review. The “abuses” the right has screamed about are the same ones that nonprofit journalism applicants like SF Public Press, The Lens, and many others faced, especially long delays and invasive questioning (and, ultimately, approval—no Tea Party group’s application ultimately was denied). Again, this was not some big secret. It was readily available information.
But Noonan, who called the to-do “the worst Washington scandal since Watergate,” is still holding on to her story, desperately. Charles Pierce destroys her latest column. But its her blog post from the following day (to be fair, before yesterday’s news, not like it would matter) that’s most astonishing. She asks “Where Was the Tea Party?” in the 2012 election, and effectively concludes, riffing off a seriously problematic AEI report (but I repeat myself), that it was repressed by the eeeevil Obama administration.
The Democrats had been badly shaken by the Republican comeback of 2010. They feared a repeat in 2012 that would lose them the White House.
Might targeting the tea-party groups—diverting them, keeping them from forming and operating—seem a shrewd campaign strategy in the years between 2010 and 2012? Sure. Underhanded and illegal, but potentially effective.