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Getting through the spin on the "IRS scandal"

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  • Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Colorado Springs, CO
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    If you've been watching the news, you are undoubtedly confused about the so called "IRS Scandal" which many on both the right but also the left are couching as yet another Obama scandal...to go along with "Benghazigate" and the Associated Press spying.

    For the record, the IRS is an independent government agency under the Treasury Department, although the IRS Commissioner is appointed by the President of the United States with the consent of the Senate. The IRS Commissioner serves a five year term. Douglas H. Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee, served as the IRS Commissioner from March 24, 2008 – November 9, 2012.

    Steven T. Miller has been the Acting IRS Commissioner since November 10, 2012 since President Obama has not been able to find a suitable candidate whose nomination wouldn't be blocked by Senate Republicans. To be fair, he hasn't put forth any names for a vote yet.

    So there is no such thing as an approved IRS Commissioner at this time. However, Marco Rubio, in his ignorance, has called for the resignation of the IRS Commissioner. Since all of the supposed extra scrutiny of Tea Party organization occurred under Shulman's watch, I suppose he is asking for the double resignation of Shulman whose term was up on November 9th, 2012.

    Right wing media are attempting to tarnish President Obama with the acts of the IRS. Even left wing media are engaging in that game with such innuendo as "high high does it go." Both right and left wing media seem intent on labeling this as "another Obama scandal."

    If you want to understand more about what's behind this "scandal" I think that Dylan Matthews writing in the Washington Post, Wonk Blog does a pretty good job of explaining it.

    Everything you need to know about the IRS scandal in one FAQ

    What is being missed in a lot of the media discussions, at least from my point of view, is that the Tea Party and it's various associated groups such as Karl Rove's Crossroads were claiming a tax exempt status under Section 501 (c) 4 of the tax code, but were in fact flaunting the law. They were inviting scrutiny with their open campaigning and negative ads. As I can surmise from the media spin on this is that the IRS should have gone after an equal number of left wing organizations to give the appearance of being "fair and balanced." Really?
  • Democrat
    California
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    The one thing missing from the debate is the fact that when the IRS works on a program they are working on the premise of the "biggest bang for the buck", i.e., finding the areas where the largest amount of non-compliance exists. I going after entities which do or may not meet the Sec 501 (c) criteria, those entities with political agenda's in their title were in the forefront of those selected for review or further examination. The IRS has limited resources and must identify those areas that will yield the biggest results for each dollar spent. This is a part of the "corporate" mentality. That does not mean it is political, only that they chose the most apparent entities that would not meet the criteria of the Code.
  • Other Party
    Nebraska
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    Yet the IRS has already apologized according to many sources, including the AP and USA Today. Even the president almost apologized. Almost.

    An apology by the IRS makes it seems as if there was inappropriate activity, does it not?

    Let's see what comes out of the investigation.
  • Strongly Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Dallas, TX
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    Great timely post.
  • Democrat
    California
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    The IRS has a history of apologizing Congress for criteria set by Congress and met by the Agency, but then "ignored or forgotten" by Congress when the kitchen got to hot. The lines may have been crossed, but it was due to employees trying to do a good job and instill voluntary compliance on a population that was either filing incorrect or fraudulent returns.
  • Other Party
    Nebraska
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    rholfield you should take a look at the IRS Mission Statement which ends with..."applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all"

    Apparently there was a problem with the "integrity and fairness" part.

    I'm not defending the Tea Party nor am I a fan of theirs, but "integrity and fairness to all" does not mean "biggest bang for the buck" by picking and choosing organizations with certain words or names in their titles.

    They apparently screwed up so let's see what the investigation brings forth...They need to put this behind them by coming clean instead trying to cover it up which happens all too often with government organizations.
  • Democrat
    Philadelphia, PA
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    I don't think this IRS matter rises to the level of Watergate,but the IRS is a very intimidating Agency,if you don't think so .wait until you get a letter saying there is a discrepancy in your return, that being said, I think the IRS was doing its job as for investigating the status of certain groups non-profit & not for profit applications, the problem seems to arise from the fact that there was a disproportionate amount of Political Right groups as opposed to the Liberals applications that were being closely monitored and screened, I say wait until the results of any inquiry or investigation that might be initiated before we go off half cocked.
  • Democrat
    California
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    I do accept and apply that the tax law is to be applied with integrity and fairness to all...but in selecting the population of the returns or applications to be reviewed or examined, the same criteria is applied to all in the same manner...if there are titles or other information on the submitted requests that would suggest that they would not meet the criteria of Section 501(c) and (d), then they are in the pool for further review. Just because there may have been a larger proportion that identified themselves with conservative or extreme political positions does not mean they should not be reviewed or examined...and does not mean that the concept of "applyiing the tax law with integrity and fairness to all" has not been met. Fraud is Fraud...where ever you find it.
  • Other Party
    Nebraska
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    rholfield you are most certainly welcome to your opinion but there's someone with a different opinion: President Obama.

    He has called the so called IRS scandal "INTOLERABLE" and "INEXCUSABLE" and said "HOLD THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE FAILURES ACCOUNTABLE...SO SUCH CONDUCT NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN"

    That's what President Obama has said about the so called IRS scandal. So far.

    Once again, let's see what happens with the investigation.
  • Democrat
    California
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    While I have very few political disagreements with the President, and even though it may be politically expedient to take the hard line at the moment....it is usually better to wait for the facts and act (or react) to them when all the dust has settled.

    In my experience, the employees of the IRS are just very diligent and hard working people. They look for the best and most efficient way of getting the best result to achieve our goal of Voluntary Compliance.

    If this ruffles some feathers, then let's see the compliance rates of the entities selected.
  • Other Party
    Nebraska
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    What you call ..."the best and most efficient way"... to conduct business is characterized quite differently by the president.

    I agree with you that the president is usually very measured and restrained with his words which makes it surprising to me that he has come out so strongly on this issue.

    Maybe he knows something that you and I do not. Most of us will have to wait for the investigation but maybe he is getting ahead of the game.
  • Democrat
    California
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    Quite frankly, I do not know the criteria that the IRS employees were operating under. That of course remains to be seen. I would like to see the IG report and could make a more definitive statement based on their findings. If they (the employees) were properly supervised (i.e., local management actually knew what they were doing), something like this should not have happened. That being said, they were doing the best they could do to do a good job, without any political intrigue.

    The President...well he is just trying to stay ahead of the "curve" on this issue.

    As far as him knowing more or less than any of us...I just can't say.
  • Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Colorado Springs, CO
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    I'll add a few more thoughts. First the 501 (c) 4 section of the tax code does appear to be vague with lots of room for legal interpretation:

    "501(c)(4) organizations are generally civic leagues and other corporations operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees with membership limited to a designated company or people in a particular municipality or neighborhood, and with net earnings devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.[33] 501(c)(4) organizations may lobby for legislation, and unlike 501(c)(3) organizations they may also participate in political campaigns and elections, as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare."

    As Dylan Matthews pointed out in the Wonk Blog, after the Citizens United ruling, the number of new applications for 501(c)(4) exempt status grew from 1,741 in fiscal year 2010 to 2,774 in 2012, while the staff of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS actually fell. So while the Tea Party and other organizations saw the 501(c)4 as something to be exploited, especially with reduced staff at the IRS, the IRS was left with how to interpret and apply a regulation that was written by Congress...or their lobbyists. It was basically a no win for the IRS...they DO NOT MAKE LAW. They apply the law. They had to make short cuts to keep up with the rising number of "tax flounters"...my choice of words. And most of these just happened to be on the right.

    I believe that most everyone at the IRS are professionals that take their jobs seriously. Unfortunately for those down in the trenches, mistakes were made in not viewing the "big picture" of their selected actions against Tea Party affiliated groups. This is where the buck stops at the IRS Commissioners office...it goes no higher. The Commish sets and reinforces the code of conduct of the professionals in his organization.

    I am, of course, speculating, and I agree with others that we should let the investigation proceed without prejudice. But it's hard to not take the opposing view when Fox News and others have already cast judgment and are ready to indict the President of the United States. Bill O'Reilly has called President Obama a liar. So what else is new when the facts don't agree with their story line?
  • Other Party
    Nebraska
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    The tax code may be a little vague but I did not see anything in it which allowed for targeting organizations with certain words in their title. This seems to be intentional targeting of the TEA Party and I don't think any organization should be targeted by the IRS because of their political views. President Obama and the Director of the IRS seem to think so, too.

    Since the actions were taken by more than one office, this seems to be more than just a few of those ..."down in the trenches"... deciding on their own to go after the TEA's. At first I heard it was just the Cincinnatti office, later I heard at least one California office was doing the same. And according to an AP report, senior IRS officials knew this was going on as early as June 2011.

    "Senior IRS officials knew"...

    Let's see what comes out of the investigation.
  • Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Colorado Springs, CO
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    Well...in case you missed it, the IRS so called scandal is dead. I think Dick Polman at Newsworks described the non-scandal the best:

    Dick Polman, Newsworks: By the way, the IRS "scandal" died this week

    "Last Monday, lest we forget, newly-surfaced IRS documents made it abundantly clear that the Republican scandalmonger's central premise was a fraud. Issa had repeatedly alleged that Obama (or his White House minions, or his '12 campaign team) had commanded the IRS to unfairly target conservative groups. But now it turns out that the Cincinnati IRS office targeted liberal groups just as often, using key words like "progressive" and "Occupy" and "medical marijuana." Turns out, the IRS office took these shortcuts because it wanted to determine whether blatantly political groups - on the left and right - were trying to mask themselves as apolitical in order to get tax-exempt status.

    "But wait, didn't the original IRS inspector general's report single out the agency's targeting of conservative groups? Why did it fail to mention the targeting of liberal groups? This week, we learned the answer. According to a spokesman for the inspector general, Issa himself specifically told the IG to "narrowly focus on Tea party organizations."

    "So let's review: The Cincinnati IRS office targeted liberal as well as conservative groups, Issa asked for a report that cherry-picked only the conservative groups, and he falsely insisted for weeks that Obama had plotted the whole thing. How do we know he was lying? Because the key Cincinnati IRS supervisor - a self-described "conservative Republican" - stated in sworn testimony that he never heard a peep from the Obama brass."


    So the topic has played itself out in the mainstream media, but I suppose it'll live on forever in the minds of Fox News viewers, none the wiser that they have been duped again. Unfortunately so was President Obama who forced the firing of otherwise respectable IRS directors. The question I have is when are Califonians going to fire Darrell Issa?

    This was Issa's baby from birth to death.