Gooses and Ganders

New documents show that the IRS’s targeting of 501(c)(4) applicants was more widespread than initially reported:

“Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released 15 lists of terms that the IRS agency used and has provided to congressional investigators. Some of the lists, which evolved over time, used the terms ‘‘Progressive’’ and ‘‘Tea Party’’ and others including ‘‘Medical Marijuana,’’ ‘’Occupied Territory Advocacy,’’ ‘’Healthcare legislation,’’ ‘’Newspaper Entities’’ and ‘‘Paying National Debt.’’”

I wonder how these revelations are going to register on the Conservative Outrage-O-Meter.

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108 thoughts on “Gooses and Ganders

  1. You seem to be implying that it would be hypocritical for conservatives not to be outraged, but if the reason for the outrage was the apparent ideological bias of the scrutiny, then it makes sense not to be outraged if it turns out that it wasn’t actually one-sided.

    That’s how I see it, anyway. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the IRS scruitinizing applications for 501(c)(4) status; the problem was that they appeared to be doing so in an ideologically biased way that disproportionately targeted organizations that opposed the Obama administration’s agenda, with the potential to have a chilling effect on dissenting speech. If that’s not the case, then it’s not as clear that there’s actually a problem.

    There may indeed be a problem—perhaps the screening procedures are simply more onerous than is warranted, or maybe it really was biased after all—but evidence that it was more balanced than previously believed is, all else being equal, reason to be less outraged.

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  2. I’m not a conservative, but I was really bothered by what appeared to be selective targeting (although it’s important to remember it was just closer scrutiny of applications, and there appears to have been no denials). But if this is correct, my bother-o-meter will go down.

    But the outrage machine will ignore it and continue to talk about selective targeting, whether or not it’s true. Innuendo and half-truth are their fuel; they don’t run well on truth.

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    • I should make clear that I was bothered by it as well, but wanted to see how the investigation played out, especially since it seemed like there was both sufficient motivation and ability to conduct a thorough investigation. At this point, I am still reserving judgement. On the one hand, it is a relief to learn that it likely was not ideologically based but I’m skeptical of the government’s ability to even properly generate a list of buzz words that are deserving of higher scrutiny.

      I mean, “medical marijuana”? While a case could be made that such language might be tied to campaigning, my skeptronigon makes me think it was more about keeping tabs on “violent druggies”.

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        • Off the top of my head it seems like coming up with a list of suspect buzzwords would be a pretty obvious first screen for groups deserving more scrutiny. Should be the entire reason for more scrutiny, well no, but that would be a way to find groups that are part of contemporary movements.

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          • Off the top of my head it seems like coming up with a list of suspect buzzwords would be a pretty obvious first screen for groups deserving more scrutiny. Should be the entire reason for more scrutiny, well no, but that would be a way to find groups that are part of contemporary movements.

            Which, from what I am reading (which may be wrong!), is how progressive groups were treated (“look out for these, but they can be approved”) but not Tea Party groups (“these groups need to be audited, here’s what to do”).

            It’s still not clear to me that we’re not looking at two markedly different levels of scrutiny (and there’s a 501(c)3 versus 501(c)4 issue).

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          • Off the top of my head it seems like coming up with a list of suspect buzzwords would be a pretty obvious first screen for groups deserving more scrutiny

            This is what actually makes it a very bad security countermeasure.

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            • A HA…that is what makes it such a good measure to take since it seems like a bad countermeasure it would lull the opposition into a false sense of security.

              But slightly more seriously, it isn’t a countermeasure, its just a way of screening groups. Of course sophisticated groups will come up with anodyne names if that suits their purpose , but unsophisticated groups still deserve scrutiny. Especially when those groups that have buzzwords that are popular in current movements.

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              • I’d argue (perhaps unfairly) that unsophisticated groups are largely idiots blowing their money to inconsequential effect, and hell, if they’re bending some laws a bit to throw money behind an unsophisticated candidate, they’re either going to eat crow in the primary or get slaughtered in the general or… worst case… put in someone who will get their ass handed to them in the next cycle.

                It’s the sophisticated groups that you need to worry about.

                Now, it’s not *always* a truism (it depends quite a bit on what your screening costs are, how quickly you can do a preliminary screen, what the breakdown is of ‘good actors’ vs. ‘bad actors’ in your problem domain, and relative power conditions), but it’s true fairly often that selecting for bad actors at random is a better security methodology than trying to presort.

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    • In the initial coverage, IRS folk were saying it was a number of terms; not just ‘Tea Party,’ and many of those terms were progressive.

      That got lost as, in their joy at a scandal, the airwaves were TP’d. Now, we have to wait for that mess to decay; nobody’s going to bother going out there and cleaning it up.

      /link goes to a Freedom Works timeline of the IRS scandal.

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      • +1.

        I’d read, somewhere early on in the “scandal,” that only one-third of the groups targeted were conservative but somehow that little fact got lost as the outrage-o-meter ramped up and right wingers salivated at the possibility of finally “getting” Obama. I’m so sorry Issa and other right wing shit weasels were disappointed.

        Now, will the media FINALLY stop taking Issa seriously?

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    • My bother-o-meter goes down somewhat, but before I turn it off more-or-less, I want to see:

      (a) Clarification that it was indeed 501c(4) groups that were supposed to be flagged. Fredosso is claiming that there was some asymmetry here (Tea Party 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) whereas with progressive groups it was just 501(c)(3).

      (b) Confirmation that in addition to having lists that included liberal groups, they were actually enforced in relative parity. Which is to say, if all the Tea Party groups got audited but most of the Progressive groups ended up not getting audited, there’s still a problem. the USA Today did an analysis a while back that looked awfully problematic with liberal groups sailing through. Were liberal groups actually subjected to 27-month delays with regularity?

      In other words, I think Fredosso makes some good points, if they are accurate, that we’re still not talking about Tea Party groups getting swept up in neutral policy. But Fredosso could be wrong. I need more indication of that before chalking this up to an example of conservatives complaining about equal treatment.

      Even if there were inequities, though, it is more confirmation of it being a matter of bureaucratic misjudgment rather than a “war on conservatives” as some have had it.

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      • Can I ask a dumb question that I wanted to ask when this whole kerfuffle came to light and maybe is even dumber if the narrative has now changed and it maybe wasn’t limited to Tea Party-related groups?

        When this started, the line was “groups named ‘Tea Party’ or some related variant were unfairly targeted for IRS scrutiny when requesting tax-exempt status”.

        Now, I realize that “Tea Party” has come to encompass a lot of things, but when it started I thought one of the, if not the main, planks in their platform was “The Taxes Are Too Damn High”. As indicated by the choice of “Tea Party” for their name, referencing a famous historical tax protest.

        Should we be surprised that a group that is named in such a way as to indicate “the taxes are too high!”, who then files an application to exempt themselves from all taxes, would have that application to exempt themselves from taxes scrutinized more closely (though 27-month delays seem extreme, and if they were asked to provide info that no one else was, that is wrong)?

        I mean, it’s not exactly “fair” or “right” that the guy with potleaf stickers all over his car when he got pulled over gets asked by the cop if they can check his ashtray (or if he has a medical MJ card); but in and of itself, a little extra scrutiny is probably to be expected, no?

        This always seemed a more likely explanation to me than an actual attempt by the Administration to suppress conservative dissent; particularly since this was being done in the election cycle – had this controversy hit the news then with the way it was being spun, it could have been electorally catastrophic for the Administration.

        TL; DR – like Will says at the end of his comment, from the beginning this looked more to me like “a matter of bureaucratic misjudgment rather than a “war on conservatives””

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          • Right, my point (if I had one) that this looked to me less like IRS scrutinizing “conservative” groups and more like them scrutinizing guys who say “I shouldn’t have to pay so many taxes!” – which is sort of the IRS’ job.

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            • Indeed.

              My initial thought was, “That’s fucked up!”
              Then it was, “There are a lot of questions surrounding this. I want to see what the investigation reveals. If what we think now is anything close to the truth, that’s fucked up!”

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              • Will, my point was not that the guy should be “targeted” (pulled over JUST for having the sticker); but once pulled over for some other reason (say for waiting for the stop sign to turn green), he probably should expect extra scrutiny, and there is nothing unusual or necessarily wrong with that as long as the cop is according the motorist his normal rights (if the cop asks to search the car, and the motorist consents, say).

                (NEVER CONSENT).

                Similarly, these groups applied to the entity that is responsible for prosecuting tax evasion, while using names that may imply they would like to escape taxation.

                The IRS didn’t go looking for these groups, but when they asked the IRS to be exempted from taxes, I don’t think it inherently strange that their application might be looked at more closely.

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  3. And CAIR, and MMFA, and the Barack Obama foundation. headquartered in Nairobi, tied to Bashir, the genocidaire, they all were waived through.

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  4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The IRS has historically been used to investigate “enemies”, be they left or right, depending upon who’s in power or who’s making the request (say an individual senator, etc.)

    The only good that comes out of it, is that when one side “discovers” this and there is a dust up, and some heads roll.

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  5. I wonder if Darrell Issa, Fox News, and a large majority of the conservative commentariat are now going to apologize for scandal-mongering and blaming Obama for playing politics with the IRS now that it’s been revealed that the man who initiated the screenings is a conservative Republican who apparently targeted all groups who appeared political.

    What am thinking? Of course they won’t.

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  6. The local Tea Party chapter here registered as a 501(c)(4) claiming that post-election they were going to do a whole lot of civic work, constitutional education work, sponsor seminars for people understanding their tax forms and things like that. It was all lies, they closed their doors the day after the election after doing nothing but fund campaign stops and advertising for local candidates. I keep hoping they’ll get charged for the fraud but I doubt it will happen.

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  7. It would not make sense not to tax what is a multi-billion dollar industry, the campaign industry, in which most people are involved to make a profit. That is, if we’re going to have taxes at all, this is precisely the sort of thing we should be taxing. But I understand the free speech problem with advocacy groups that may have trouble paying taxes and still having the money to actually advocate for their issues (an ironic issue, given that it is also a free speech problem that ultimately says that people should be able to give as much money as they want to campaigns, meaning that it costs more and more to have a voice at all). It seems, then, that if we’re going to have a system that costs this much to have a voice, tax exempt status is going to be an important part of it.

    The real issue, then, is the delay in verification. The problem, it seems to me, is that if these groups are only exempt if they are not strictly political groups supporting candidates (a valid rule, I think, for the reason given above), then not delaying until they can be verified will in many, if not most cases, result in political groups getting tax exempt status until after the election is over, in which case it’s too late for the review to matter. On the other hand, it means that “non-political” groups (the scare quotes are only meant to signal that I think this is all political, and I don’t think “political,” but “campaign,” should be the operative concept) who are trying to get their issues noticed during election years will in many, if not most cases not get reviewed until the election is over or nearly so, meaning that they won’t be able to serve their purpose. This seems like a pretty difficult problem to solve, and I’m not sure any quick fix — e.g., just erring on your preferred side of caution (tax ’em all first, verify later, or don’t tax any, verify later) — is very attractive to me at least.

    Maybe the best approach is to deal with campaign finance directly?

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    • The real problem was dismantling government so that there weren’t enough resources within the IRS to sort through the claims combined with really unclear guidelines on who was/wasn’t exempt.

      But I like your idea of taxing the campaign industry; a sin tax, like alcohol and tobacco and gasoline.

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  8. You fell for the squirrel yet again;

    A November 2010 version of the list obtained by National Review Online, however, suggests that while the list did contain the word “progressive,” screeners were in fact instructed to treat “progressive” groups differently from “tea party” groups. Whereas screeners were merely alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status “may not be appropriate” for applications containing the word ”progressive” – 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from conducting any political activities – they were told to send those of tea-party groups off IRS higher-ups for further scrutiny.

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  9. No one here has mentioned the fact that the reason everyone _claimed_ it was about conservative is because Issa _specifically_ told the inspector general’s office to investigate _just_ claims that conservative groups were targeted.

    In other words, this wasn’t Issa deciding to selectively reading something. This was Issa deliberately _creating_ something that was inherently a lie, and managing to lie about it for months.

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