Remember what we were told when this explosive story first broke less than a week ago? The IRS official in charge of tax exemptions for organizations said the improper methods employed within her division were executed by "low level workers" in Cincinnati who weren't motivated by "political bias," and impacted roughly 75 organizations? Wrong, wrong and wrong:
"Low Level" - Officials within the highest echelons of the agency were aware of the inappropriate targeting, including the last two commissioners -- at least one of whom appears to have misled Congress on this very question. Now Politico reports that Lerner herself sent at least one of the probing letters to an Ohio-based conservative group.
The director of the Internal Revenue Service division under fire for singling out conservative groups sent a 2012 letter under her name to one such group, POLITICO has learned. The March 2012 letter was sent to the Ohio-based American Patriots Against Government Excess (American PAGE) under the name of Lois Lerner, the director of the Exempt Organizations Division...at the time of the letter, the group was in the midst of the application process for tax-exempt nonprofit status — a process that would stretch for nearly three years and involve queries for detailed information on its social media activity, its organizational set-up, bylaws, membership and interactions with political officials. The letter threatened to close American PAGE’s case file unless additional information was received within 60 days.
These burdensome requests were apparently designed to bury the victimized groups in paperwork. Carol reported last night that some 58 percent of these applicants were asked for unnecessary information and data, according to the Inspector General's review. Some inquiries asked for screenshots of organizations' Facebook posts and even lists of what books (!) its members were reading.
"No Political Bias" - This claim was laughable on its face from the start, in light of the agency's surreal criteria for added scrutiny and the "red flag" words and phrases that triggered investigations. Now add to the mix this scoop from USA Today:
In February 2010, the Champaign Tea Party in Illinois received approval of its tax-exempt status from the IRS in 90 days, no questions asked. That was the month before the Internal Revenue Service started singling out Tea Party groups for special treatment. There wouldn't be another Tea Party application approved for 27 months. In that time, the IRS approved perhaps dozens of applications from similar liberal and progressive groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows. As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like "Progress" or "Progressive," the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.
Lerner also reportedly fast-tracked an approval for a foundation operated by President Obama's half brother, taking the extraordinary step of granting it retroactive tax-free status.
"Seventy-five organizations effected" - That number almost immediately swelled to 300. Now it's closer to 500:
The IRS targeting of conservative groups is far broader than first reported, with nearly 500 organizations singled out for additional scrutiny, according to two lawmakers briefed by the agency. IRS officials claimed on Friday that roughly 300 groups received additional scrutiny. Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that the number has actually risen to 471. Further, they said it is "unclear" whether Tea Party and other conservative groups are being targeted to this day.
We have an answer to that question now, too. Here's Carol again, quoting the cover letter from the IG's findings, dated yesterday: "A substantial number of applications have been under review, some for more than three years and through two election cycles, and remain open." Lest you even ask, nobody involved in this scheme has been disciplined (yet); just the opposite, in fact:
from #IRS briefing to Hill: no employees involved in inappropriate scrutiny of conservative groups disciplined, one was promoted.— John King (@JohnKingCNN) May 14, 2013
More allegations of IRS impropriety are cropping up across the country, and similar questions are now being raised about political favoritism within the EPA's FOIA request process: "Conservative groups seeking information from the Environmental Protection Agency have been routinely hindered by fees normally waived for media and watchdog groups, while fees for more than 90 percent of requests from green groups were waived, according to requests reviewed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute." This steady drumbeat of ugliness was enough to prompt NBC's Nightly News to kick off its broadcast with a Nixon comparison last evening, and for Jonathan Alter to pronounce the administration's crisis management efforts "disastrous:"
An "unhealthy love" for Obama is a diagnosis that applies to some people well beyond the White House walls. Think, for instance, of the famously tingly man who hosts the show on which Alter appeared. The good news in all of this is that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid see these allegations of Statist bullying as a prime opportunity to...turn back the clock on stifling political speech and pass pet legislation that would hamper conservative organizations while shielding Democrats' union cronies. Good luck with that, guys. Conservatives have far better messaging opportunities here: If the IRS is at best grossly incompetent, and at worst maliciously politicized, how can they be trusted to enforce Obamacare starting next year? And don't citizens have more cause than ever to be leery of ideas like national gun registries? Parting quotation: "What we are witnessing is nothing less than a dramatic reversal of the nation’s political narrative."