The investigations are far from over (especially as the Republicans will continue to milk this as long as they can) but evidence so far shows that improper things were done by IRS agents with no evidence of any involvement by the Obama administration.
USA Today reports that the IRS did approve tax-except status for some liberal groups while holding up applications from conservative groups
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.
Reports so far do suggest that there was a clear tendency to place more scrutiny on conservative groups but the same article does report that the IRS didn’t exclusively target conservative groups:
Some liberal groups did get additional scrutiny, although they still got their tax-exempt status while the Tea Party moratorium was in effect. For the “independent progressive” group Action for a Progressive Future, which runs the Rootsaction.org web site, the tax-exempt process took 18 months and also involved intrusive questions.
Bloomberg also found that some liberal groups were treated as the conservative groups were:
The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.
One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.
Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.
I wonder whether any of these political groups should really be receiving special tax treatment, but if tax exemptions are being given the same criteria should apply regardless of whether the organization is liberal or conservative.
CNN reports that two rogue IRS employees were primarily responsible for the extra scrutiny of conservative groups:
The Internal Revenue Service has identified two “rogue” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for “overly aggressive” handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, a congressional source told CNN.
In a meeting on Capitol Hill, acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller described the employees as being “off the reservation,” according to the source. It was not clear precisely what the alleged behavior involved.
Miller said the staffers have already been disciplined, according to another source familiar with Miller’s discussions with congressional investigators. The second source said Miller emphasized that the problem with IRS handling of tax-exempt status for tea party groups was not limited to these two employees.
While the misconduct at the IRS demands investigation, the politics provides a story which is just as interesting. Conservative groups tended to ignore direct abuses of power by the Bush administration, but both liberals and conservatives are condemning the targeting of conservative groups. There is a long history of liberals defending civil liberties regardless of the victim while conservatives have typically been more selective in taking sides on civil liberties issues.
Conservatives would love to tie this scandal to President Obama, who has condemned the misbehavior at the IRS. It is unlikely that any connection between the White House and this scandal will be uncovered. Most positions at the IRS are held by civil servants and the IRS Commissioner at the time was Doug Shulman, a Republican who had been appointed by George W. Bush.
While there is no sign of a Watergate-style scandal here, we can expect Republicans to continue to make noise about this. Unlike most of the scandals they scream about which are almost entirely fictitious, there was real wrong-doing here, even if not by the Obama administration. Generally Republicans have resorted to fear, greed, racism, and xenophobia in their appeals to the base. This gives the Republicans a scandal which they can use to fire up the base, and use for fund raising, which will not alienate people outside of their bubble. This also allows Republican leaders to align themselves with the Tea Party without necessarily embracing their nuttier views.