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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

IRS ‘scandal’ another example of ‘It’s only OK when Republicans do it’

Alex Seitz-Wald: While few are defending the Internal Revenue Service for targeting some 300 conservative groups, there are two critical pieces of context missing from the conventional wisdom on the “scandal.” First, at least from what we know so far, the groups were not targeted in a political vendetta — but rather were executing a makeshift enforcement test (an ugly one, mind you) for IRS employees tasked with separating political groups not allowed to claim tax-exempt status, from bona fide social welfare organizations. Employees are given almost zero official guidance on how to do that, so they went after Tea Party groups because those seemed like they might be political. Keep in mind, the commissioner of the IRS at the time was a Bush appointee.

The second is that while this is the first time this kind of thing has become a national scandal, it’s not the first time such activity has occurred.

“I wish there was more GOP interest when I raised the same issue during the Bush administration, where they audited a progressive church in my district in what look liked a very selective way,” California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on MSNBC Monday. “I found only one Republican, [North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones], that would join me in calling for an investigation during the Bush administration. I’m glad now that the GOP has found interest in this issue and it ought to be a bipartisan concern.”

The well-known church, All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, became a bit of a cause célèbre on the left after the IRS threatened to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status over an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. “Jesus [would say], ‘Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine,’” rector George Regas said from the dais.
The IRS under the Bush administration also targeted Greenpeace and the NAACP for extra IRS attention. And the Republican use of the IRS as a political tool didn’t end with the Bush administration; in 2011, Republicans pushed for an audit of the AARP, after the group that lobbies on behalf of seniors announced its support for Obamacare.

There’s no evidence that the IRS focused on Tea Party groups to punish them, rather it seems it was a case of bad management from an agency whose commissioner was on the way out. Under the Bush administration, however, the story seems to be very different. A lot of the Republicans clawing their eyes out over this IRS “scandal” were awfully quiet when it happened on Bush. And those who actually called for the AARP to be punished… Well, let’s say they can enjoy a nice cuppa STFU.

In the end, it’s more a story about the squeaky Republican wheel getting the media grease. But keep in mind they’re complaining about something their party has actively encouraged.

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