IRS flagged conservative groups for unfair scrutiny

IRS flagged conservative groups for unfair scrutiny
IRS flagged conservative groups for unfair scrutiny
Associated Press

Remember the boy who cried wolf? It became easy to ignore him after he’d lost all credibility, which became problematic when he actually saw a wolf.

This has consistently been a problem for the right in the Obama era – conservatives routinely become apoplectic, complaining about one perceived outrage after another, but their efforts to identify a genuine controversy have been for naught. After a while, it’s easier to roll one’s eyes than to take their Scandal of the Day seriously.

But sometimes, there’s an actual wolf.

The Internal Revenue Service is apologizing for inappropriately flagging conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, said organizations that included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status were singled out for additional reviews.

Lerner said the practice, initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati, was wrong and she apologized while speaking at a conference in Washington.

Last year, a variety of conservative groups complained that the IRS was treating them unfairly, asking an inordinate number of questions to justify their tax-exempt status, and as of today, those complaints were well grounded. The boys who cried wolf may have dubious credibility, but to mix metaphors, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I suppose one might argue that Tea Party groups were inherently partisan, and their claims for tax-exempt status were suspect given the movement’s larger purpose, but it’s a tough sell. The IRS is supposed to be even-handed, and in several cases, it seems clear that the agency was not.

This is the sort of thing that costs officials their jobs.

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a statement calling for the Obama administration to conduct a review of “these thuggish practices”:

“Today’s acknowledgement by the Obama administration that the IRS did in fact target conservative groups in the heat of last year’s national election is not enough. Today, I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not underway at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views.

“Last year, amid reports that the Obama administration was using the levers of executive power to harass conservative political groups in Kentucky and elsewhere, I issued a very public warning to the administration that the targeting of private citizens on the basis of their political views would not be tolerated. Today’s apology by the IRS is proof that those concerns were well founded. But make no mistake, an apology won’t put this issue to rest. Now more than ever we need to send a clear message to the Obama Administration that the First Amendment is non-negotiable, and that apologies after an election year are not an sufficient response to what we now know took place at the IRS. This kind of political thuggery has absolutely no place in our politics.”

For a change, all of these complaints are legitimate. There really was wrongdoing. Groups really were treated unfairly. It’d be wrong to dismiss the complaints, assuming the right is just manufacturing some new pseudo-scandal; this really does deserve to be taken seriously.