Other journalists have made similar leaps of logic. Last week, NBC.com’s Open Channel ran yet another story tying the targeting scandal to IRS headquarters. It quoted several sources, including Sekulow, Mitchell of True the Vote, and an anonymous employee in the IRS’s Cincinnati office. But the only real evidence it presented was an inquiry the IRS’s Washington, DC office sent to a group known as the Ohio Liberty Coalition (previously the Ohio Liberty Council). The cover letter was stamped with the signature of Louis Lerner, the head of the IRS’s tax-exempt division, who was recently suspended after pleading the Fifth before Congress. NBC argued that this and other correspondence showed that the targeting scheme did “not solely originate in the agency’s Cincinnati office.”

This presumes the Ohio Liberty Coalition was singled out for its Tea Party ties when there are plenty of other reasons the IRS might have given it a hard look. So-called “social welfare” groups, or 501(c)4s, are allowed to engage in political activity—but only to advance their social missions. Last week, The New York Times reported that many of the 501(c)4s that were scrutinized by the IRS engaged in political activities that may have crossed this line, and thus merited “closer review.” The Ohio Liberty Coalition was offered as a prime example:

Tom Zawistowski, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, another Tea Party group that has complained about the scrutiny it received from the I.R.S., sent out regular e-mails to members about Romney campaign events and organized protests around the state to “demand the truth about Benghazi” when Mr. Obama visited before the 2012 election. The coalition also canvassed neighborhoods, handing out Romney campaign “door hangers,” Mr. Zawistowski said.

That’s exactly the kind of activity that the IRS should be scrutinizing. To suggest otherwise only encourages conspiracy mongering.


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Mariah Blake writes for the United States Project, CJR's politics and policy desk. She is based in Washington, DC, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Salon, The Washington Monthly, and CJR, among other publications.