Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blame Congress for the IRS mess - Updated

Once you cut through the self-serving noise over the IRS psuedo-scandal, a few things become clear. Tea Party groups weren't really being targeted for their political beliefs. They were being asked to prove why they deserved a big tax exemption. And let's be real, if the name of your group stands for Taxed Enough Already, you're begging to be tied up in paperwork.

As I said before, I think most of the smaller groups were run by grifters who saw a prime opportunity to profit personally from the fear and anger of misinformed conservatives. More than one of them has been exposed as a fraud since the Kochs laid down that astroturf.

Also, I've seen no evidence President Obama had anything to do with it. He's not checking in with the IRS daily to give them a list of targets. He has no knowledge of their day to day operations. Anybody really think the CEO of a major corporation knows the intimate details of every manager's work day? It defies logic.

IRS was doing its job under the rules that Congress gave them, which were not at all clear. This is the smartest thing I've read about this so far. The real IRS scandal is in who was allowed to operate without challenge:
If that definition sounds murky—that is, if it’s unclear what 501(c)(4) organizations are allowed to do—that’s because it is murky. Particularly leading up to the 2012 elections, many conservative organizations, nominally 501(c)(4)s, were all but explicitly political in their work. For example, Americans for Prosperity, which was funded in part by the Koch Brothers, was an instrumental force in helping the Republicans hold the House of Representatives. In every meaningful sense, groups like Americans for Prosperity were operating as units of the Republican Party. Democrats organized similar operations, but on a much smaller scale. (They undoubtedly would have done more, but they lacked the Republican base for funding such efforts.)

So the scandal—the real scandal—is that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way. As Fred Wertheimer, the President of Democracy 21, a government-ethics watchdog group, put it, “it is clear that a number of groups have improperly claimed tax-exempt status as section 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ organizations in order to hide the donors who financed their campaign activities in the 2010 and 2012 federal elections.”
The real problem is the IRS was wasting time chasing the small fry while the big fish were allowed to freely cheat the system. President Obama can't fix that. Only Congress can, by making the rules clearer.

Update: Charlie Pierce has more on why the blame for this IRS mess is on Congress.

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