Yesterday's IRS news bulletin was a bit perplexing. It was no real surprise that the agency had used inappropriate 'BOLO' lists more widely and for longer than we'd previously known. Sweeping malfeasance and subsequent dishonesty is par for the course with them at this point. What was intriguing, though, was the apparent revelation that the IRS had also used key words like "progressive" and "occupy" during their screening process. This begged the question, why didn't these facts come to light much earlier? Liberals and the IRS have been eager to tamp down the festering controversy for weeks, all while insisting that the abuse wasn't politically motivated -- a tale few Americans believe. If the wrongful targeting affected both sides of the spectrum, that would have represented solid evidence for the 'innocent incompetence' defense. As I've written previously, pleading ineptitude boosts conservatives' case that the federal government has become too sprawling and unaccountable, but it's still less damaging than leaving a general impression of deliberate partisan malice. Are we to believe that as the latter assumption calcified in the public's imagination, the IRS and its defenders chose not to disclose the other side of the story? Remember, lefty groups had already stated that they weren't targeted, evidence abounds that left-leaning applications sailed through while righty applications languished, the Inspector General's report clearly showed a distinct ideological imbalance, and Stephen Miller conceded under oath that right-leaning groups were exclusively victimized by the practice. The IRS admitted and apologized for their disparate treatment of conservatives, for crying out loud. So why, after all of that, are we finally being informed that liberal groups were ensnared in the scandal, too? National Review's Eliana Johnson cuts through the fog and makes some important distinctions that help illuminate the truth:
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. That means the applications of progressive groups could be approved on the spot by line agents, while those of tea-party groups could not. Furthermore, the November 2010 list noted that tea-party cases were “currently being coordinated with EOT,” which stands for Exempt Organizations Technical, a group of tax lawyers in Washington, D.C. Those of progressive groups were not.
So the terms employed during initial screening processes did include words like "progressive" (although from what we know about the original 'BOLO' lists, they were overwhelmingly skewed toward conservative descriptors), but only conservative applications were marked for additional scrutiny -- including micromanagement from Washington. This abuse led to plainly uneven outcomes along ideological lines, as reported by 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.
Zero Tea Party conservative groups' applications were approved for more than two years, as dozens of lefty groups were rubber-stamped. Yes, it seems as though the word "progressive" appeared on some of those 'BOLO' lists (see update below), but the screening and approval process went on as usual for those groups. Not so for the other side, against whom Beltway managers directed added scrutiny, onerous follow-up questionnaires, and interminable delays. Also bear in mind two other elements of the IRS scandal: The targeting of conservative donors, and the wildly improper (and illegal) leaking of conservative groups' confidential donor lists to their political adversaries. When liberals can provide evidence that the IRS shipped, say, a private roster of Planned Parenthood's donors to the Susan B. Anthony List, then we'll talk. That's a hypothetical. In reality, the IRS was actually instructing pro-life groups not to picket Planned Parenthood clinics under penalty of law, and inquiring as to the contents of their prayers. Some on the Left are seizing on yesterday's developments as "proof" that conservative "conspiracy theories" have at last been debunked, or whatever. Nice try. Johnson's piece, plus reams of additional evidence, belie that spin. I repeat: The IRS apologized for its wrongful actions against conservative groups. It's not a conspiracy theory if the harmed party elicits an apology from the culprit, based on the culprit's own internal review.
UPDATE - The DC's Patrick Howley points out another significant difference:
The term “progressive” appeared on a heavily redacted November 2010 ”Be On the Lookout” (BOLO) list released this week by Ways and Means Democrats. The term was used to help the IRS identify political activity that “may not be appropriate” among 501(c)(3) charities eligible for tax-deductible contributions. However, the targeting of conservative groups largely focused on applicants for 501(c)(4) “social welfare organization” status, which shields groups from having to disclose their donors. The scrutinized “progressive” applications were not required to be sent to a special IRS unit for additional review — but tea party and conservative applications were subjected to extra scrutiny by 12 different working groups within the IRS. Tea Party groups were also marked for extra scrutiny in the same document...Ways and Means Democrats did not call any progressive victims of IRS targeting at the committee’s hearing on IRS victims. “I do want to note that the minority was given the opportunity to call a witness, but did not present a witness that had been affected by taxpayer activity — by IRS activity. So, that’s why there is no minority witness at the table today,” Camp said at the June 4 Ways and Means hearing, in response to Democratic Rep. Ron Kind’s complaint that no progressive victims were present at the hearing. Camp later said at the hearing that he welcomed potential progressive victims to come forward, but that no progressive groups had done so by June 4.
Committee Democrats now claim the targeting was bipartisan, so there's no "scandal" to see here. If liberal organizations were equally -- or somewhat equally -- swamped with inappropriate questions, hyper scrutiny from IRS headquarters, and massive delays, why couldn't Cummings' brigade produce a single witness to testify to those facts? And were any IRS working groups formed to review liberal organizations' applications? The agency mobilized twelve such units for scrutinizing conservatives.