I’m afraid I have some good news and some bad news for conservatives who’ve been so heavily invested in the IRS “scandal.” The good news is, there are some important new revelations about how the tax agency responded to groups seeking tax-exempt status. The bad news, the details reinforce the fact that literally all of the right’s allegations have been discredited.
The controversy that erupted in May has focused on an ideological question: Were conservative groups singled out for special treatment based on their politics, or did the I.R.S. equally target liberal groups? But a closer look at the I.R.S. operation suggests that the problem was less about ideology and more about how a process instructing reviewers to “be on the lookout” for selected terms was applied to any group that mentioned certain words in its application.
Organizations approached by The New York Times based on specific “lookout list” warnings, like advocates for people in “occupied territories” and “open source software developers,” told similar stories of long waits, intrusive inquiries and bureaucratic hassles that pointed to no particular bias but rather to a process that became too rigid and too broad. The lists often did point to legitimate issues: partisan political campaign organizations seeking tax-exempt status, or commercial businesses hoping to cloak themselves as nonprofit groups.
If the IRS’s critics want to argue that the so-called BOLO alerts were mishandled, I don’t think they’ll get much of an argument from anyone. The tax agency has already conceded the process was, at best, clumsy, and was the result of ambiguous legal standards being applied by officials who were acting with insufficient guidance.
What’s more, if the right wants to point to this as proof that reforms are needed, there’s certainly room for a serious conversation.
But the political controversy that was already deteriorating quickly is now over. Every single political player – congressional Republicans, pundits, activists, et al – who said conservatives were targeted for partisan/ideological mistreatment was wrong. That’s simply not what happened.
GOP officials and commentators said conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status were singled out for excessive IRS scrutiny. That’s wrong. Republicans said conservative groups faced delays that liberal groups didn’t have to endure. That’s wrong. Republicans said President Obama’s critics were unfairly targeted. As the NYT reports today, that’s wrong, too.
So where are the political world’s apologies for having spent six weeks manufacturing a scandal for the public based on nothing?
For what it’s worth, GOP lawmakers appear to be giving up
“We haven’t proved political motivation,” said Representative Charles Boustany Jr., a Louisiana Republican who, as the chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, is leading one inquiry.
Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said that in retrospect, suggestions that Mr. Obama had orchestrated an I.R.S. attack on his political enemies were unwarranted.
“Presidents have always been very careful about maintaining the appearance of keeping hands off the I.R.S.,” he said. “I don’t have any reason to believe there wasn’t targeting of conservatives, but it might well have been a lot more than that as well.”
I guess we’ll be hearing more about Benghazi again, then?