Did officials at the Federal Election Commission collude with the IRS to unfairly target and abuse conservative groups? National Review drew attention to this potential angle last week, and now the House Oversight Committee is on the case. A "phony scandal" creeps closer to another federal agency, and CNN has the report:
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa demanded Wednesday that the Federal Election Commission turn over records of more than five years of communications with the Internal Revenue Service -- a move that significantly expands the California Republican's ongoing probe of alleged federal targeting of conservative groups. In a letter to FEC Chairman Ellen Weintraub -- a Democrat -- Issa cited CNN reporting on Monday that raises "the prospect of inappropriate coordination between the IRS and the FEC about tax-exempt entities." Among other things, Issa asked for records of all communications between the IRS and the FEC dating back to the start of 2008. He also requested records of any FEC discussions relating to tax-exempt applications or organizations since 2008.
[Issa's] letter came after Don McGahn, the vice chairman of the FEC and a Republican, told CNN that he saw an e-mail from an FEC investigator to Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS division responsible for reviewing applications from various groups for tax-exempt status. The investigator asked Lerner, herself a former FEC employee, to discuss the status of the American Future Fund, a conservative political advocacy group. McGahn noted that after Lerner was contacted, the IRS sent a questionnaire to the American Future Fund. Lerner, the figure at the center of the congressional investigation into alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to testify before Issa's panel in May. "Dealing with Lois Lerner is probably out of the ordinary," McGahn said, stressing that FEC commissioners had not given their staffers permission to reach out to the IRS on the matter, a step typically required for such inquiries.
After Engle was promoted to chief legal counsel for FEC Commissioner Lee Ann Elliot, his new perch afforded him the opportunity to see and read all of Lerner's memos and recommendations. "What did I see? I saw everything," he says. "I saw everything the commissioners were asked to vote on. How did I feel? I would say that Lois is pro-government. The bigger, the better. The more demanding the regulations, the better. The larger the investigation, the better it is. Anything that would be considered an activist government, that's the Lois Lerner I worked with." Engle says Lerner saw violations around every corner, even when her legal reasoning was slight. "Under [Lerner], the general counsel's office functioned as a prosecutor. Nine times out of ten, her recommendations were against the respondent. I think she was philosophically opposed to money in politics and was very much a critic of people spending money in political affairs. She could always find a violation -- at least in her opinion, or in her head. In my opinion, her interpretation of the law was sometimes just incorrect." Engle believes Lerner relished her role as a regulator that allowed "government to bestow things on people rather than acknowledging them as equals, based neutrally on the law," he explains.