The truth behind the IRS scandal

Ronald Dixon

Over the past month, the Republican Party in Congress has placed a lot of effort into attack the Obama administration for what they call the “IRS Scandal.” Through Congressional hearings, op-ed columns, media appearances and press conferences, conservatives have fought tirelessly in their unification against the IRS.

These insidious attacks against the taxing organization and the executive branch are completely off-base and extremely inaccurate.

What is the basis of the argument against the Internal Revenue Service? Well, about a month ago, it was discovered that the IRS “targeted” groups that were attempting to receive tax-exempt status if they had some political key words, such as “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names.

Several politicians and conservative pundits have come out against the IRS move, and have used it as a justification for the firing of the IRS director, Steven Miller (he was going to resign over the summer anyway, but, due to the scandal, resigned early). They also have used this incident as a broad example of “government overreach” by Obama, and they are even flirting with the idea of calling for the impeachment of the president (despite the fact that he was unaware of the IRS’s dealings prior to).

Conservative, however, overlooked several key facts with regards to this supposed “scandal.”

The primary factor that is downplayed, even by the mainstream media, is that the IRS was, in fact, doing their job. When groups apply to become a 501(c)(4) organization, entities that do not have to pay taxes, they cannot have staunch political rhetoric. The general rule is that they must serve the “social welfare,” and that they cannot have direct ties with politicians or groups that are extremely political in nature; their primary goal is to serve the social welfare of the citizenry.

Unfortunately, though, given the incredibly loose interpretation of these rules, coupled with a politically correct government that has been too afraid to question the motives of these groups, many organizations on both sides of the political spectrum, but namely conservative groups, have applied for and have been successfully granted 501(c)(4) status. Not only do they not have to pay taxes, but they also have the capacity to shield their political donors, thanks to the 2010 “Citizens United” Supreme Court case.

Not only should these groups have tax-exempt status, conservative argue, but they should not be questioned by the IRS when applying to become a 501(c)(4). They have argued that this is political discrimination, a rationale that is based on the correlation between the uptick in conservative, Tea Party groups and the wave that caused Democrats to lose many seats during the 2010 mid-term elections.

This argument, though, relies upon the correlation without causation logical fallacy: just because two events correlate does not mean that one caused the other. Indeed, what we have here is a tertiary factor that serves as the real reason for the IRS scrutinizing blatantly political groups: an incredible influx of groups.

Back in 2010, after the Supreme Court ruling and during the rise of the Tea Party movement, many right-wing organizations applied to become 501(c)(4), tax-exempt groups. Moreover, 85 percent of the spending during that timeframe was from conservative groups, with the rest being a mix of non-partisan and liberal entities.

Of course, given the facts above, it only makes sense for the IRS to target the sub-group that grew rapidly over the course of a short amount of time. Logically, many of these groups, seeing the influx in applications, wanted to take advantage of the action; any chance that they could get to save money and incentivize rich donors to secretly contribute they would take. Another point that conservatives conveniently fail to discuss, though, is that, out of all of the conservative groups that applied to become a 501(c)(4), none of them were denied. In fact, Emerge America, a progressive group with the primary intention of training women for politics, was denied tax-exempt status.

Are progressives complaining that we are being targeting by an unconstitutional IRS and a tyrannical president? No we are not. In fact, it appears as if only a minority of progressive liberals are defending the IRS. President Barack Obama, one who we could hardly call a progressive, for example, showed his apparent lack of backbone and became one of the staunchest critics of the IRS.

A final argument that conservatives have used is that this is an incredibly large conspiracy that connects the IRS and the rest of the executive branch in an attempt to “overstep bounds” and to increase power. When looking at the facts, however, the Republicans are clearly wrong.

The IRS “scandal” was based in Cincinnati and the “targeting” was performed by low-level employees. In-depth reporting from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the conservative Wall Street Journal all found that there was no connection between the Cincinnati employees and the director of the entire taxing organization as well as Obama. Of course, when Republicans, such as John McCain, argue that they simply cannot accept that there was absolutely no connection between low and high-level employees, we find that conservatives are not basing their critiques on evidence, but, rather, politically-derived, emotional outrage against a Democratic President that they would like to replace with a Republican in 2016.

Indeed, their disdain against Obama has not only clouded their sense of fairness and objectivity, but has also caused them to exclude the real scandals of previous administrations. Republicans do not seem keen on discussing the Iran-Contra scandal, when former President Reagan’s administration sold illegal weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages. How about the Iraq War, which was based upon the incorrect notion that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in the hands of terrorists? Surely the latter, spearheaded by a divinely-justified former President George W. Bush, should have been a scandal, when false intelligence leads to the deaths of over 4,000 American soldiers and countless civilians? At home, even, should we not be talking about Michele Bachmann’s money-laundering scandal that is now being investigated by the FBI (ironically enough, she called the IRS situation “worse than Watergate”)? Even more broadly, it is not the scandal against the American people that politicians are far more focused on devastating austerity measures than ways to improve the economy and get Americans back to work?

And yet, with the relatively minute issue with the IRS, an issue that is hardly a scandal, Republicans have chosen to use it to justify strict condemnations against Obama and the executive branch.

For weeks now, and for the foreseeable future, Republicans will continue to distort the facts about this scandal. Instead of providing a fair analysis of the IRS, critiquing them for not being initially truthful with their legal and fair treatment of political groups, they are using their anti-tax core of a belief and their antipathy against government to attack Democrats, Obama and the tax-collecting group. Thankfully, though, the public is not ignorant enough to fall for these Republican talking points, with Obama actually seeing a 2 percent rise in his approval during the heat of the scandal (now at 53 percent, according to a CNN poll).

What will the future hold? Will Republicans continue to attack Obama for this issue, whereby further lowering their popularity and actually bolstering support for the president (akin to the Monica Lewinski affair)? This appears likely.

Ronald Dixon welcomes comments at [email protected].