USA Today had an item today on the IRS controversy, which seemed to reinforce much of what we already know: conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status faced unfair and unreasonable scrutiny. But deep in the article, in the 18th paragraph, USA Today added seven unexpected words: “Some liberal groups did get additional scrutiny.”
They did? Actually, yes.
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.
In fact, it’s worth emphasizing that the IRS, which has acknowledged making mistakes in this area and offered an awkward apology for agency missteps, noted yesterday that the “organizations of all political views” were affected by the scrutiny.
This certainly seems relevant to the larger controversy, doesn’t it? Up until now, the story has been pretty straightforward: conservative groups were subjected to unfair treatment when applying for tax-exempt 501(c)4 status. The IRS must remain politically neutral at all times and the right was fully justified in complaining that the agency fell far short of this standard.
But if several liberal groups were subjected to the same treatment, it reinforces a larger, less-partisan arc to the story: the IRS struggled to enforce ambiguous tax laws and was beset by bureaucratic bungling. The ratios certainly matter – if only a handful of left-leaning groups faced tough scrutiny, while right-wing leaning groups fared far worse, that would point to a more systemic problem – but we don’t yet know that for sure.
It would appear, then, that what’s needed is a detailed accounting. The inspector general’s report filled in many of the blanks, and I suspect we’ll get a more thorough examination with the FBI looking into the case and congressional hearings on the way.