Issa’s IRS “Scandal” is a Joke, as is the GOP

Darrell Issa is right about one thing; no individual or group should be singled out arbitrarily for scrutiny by any government agency, including the IRS. That is. unless they are plotting to break the law. As a liberal, I find it odd that Issa and other Republicans have just now figured it out. Perhaps now they’ll do a mea culpa and pay restitution to ACORN. No? How surprising.

But it’s not arbitrary to examine the paperwork submitted by 300 groups applying for tax exempt status, especially when their activities are largely political, which goes against the US Tax Code. Isn’t it the job of the IRS to make sure they legitimately qualify as a tax exempt organization? Look, the Citizens United decision caused hundreds of right wing political groups to pop up almost overnight, so they could attempt to swing the 2012 elections. Liberal groups weren’t creating tax exempt organizations in droves, unfortunately, so of course IRS investigators were more likely to look at right wing groups.

And frankly, given recent history, everyone should be suspicious of groups with the word “patriot” in their name. Several months ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report listing 1,360 anti-government groups with the word “Patriot” in their name. Should all of them simply be given tax-exempt status, because, they choose to use the same word in their name as many Tea Party groups? How do IRS investigators do their job – which is, in part, to determine the difference between legitimate tax-exempt groups and anti-government hate groups without searching for them?

Honestly, the Republicans’ fake “concern” over this “issue” couldn’t possibly be more hypocritical. And frankly, given the speed with which they used the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act to limit opportunities for black people in red states, their whining about civil rights violations rings hollow, as well. And aren’t these the same folks who for decades have been advocating to force women to stay pregnant against their will, by giving the government decision-making power over the use of her womb? Aren’t these the same folks who passed DOMA, and who are now scrambling to find some other pretext to deny same-sex couples their right to marry? Didn’t Republican Senator Orrin Hatch attempt to amend the Senate’s immigration bill, to ty to force all immigrants who apply for legal status to submit to a DNA test, and to put their information into a government database?

Are we supposed to cry because white people are being denied a tax exemption for political activity that isn’t supposed to be tax exempt?

We might be able to take them more seriously if they hadn’t recently they introduced another bill THIS YEAR to de-fund ACORN, which no longer exists. By the way, “bills of attainder” are directly unconstitutional , not targeting groups for extra IRS scrutiny based on their politics, when their politics excludes them from a tax exemption.

Issa should also be aware that his cries of “wolf!” seem extra hypocritical, given his Republican Party’s history of allowing the IRS to target liberals when one of theirs is in charge, with no more than an isolated complaint from their side. 

In 2003, a right wing group called Public Interest Watch, a nonprofit funded almost entirely with money from Exxon Mobil, filed a complaint with the IRS against Greenpeace, in which the environmental group was accused of abusing its tax-exempt status. PIW was the brainchild of two far right Republican PR firms, who targeted Greenpeace specifically, because they felt as if Greenpeace was anti-property rights. It took three years for that investigation to run its course, and at no time did a Republican step up to defend the group, or to call out President for abuse of power.

In 2004, after NAACP President Julian Bond lambasted President Bush (remember him?) for being the first president since Hoover to refuse to speak to the group, the IRS conducted an investigation into the civil  tax exempt status. And guess the reason the IRS used as a rationale for the added scrutiny? According to their letter to the NAACP, they cited that Bond’s speech “condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush on education, the economy and the war in Iraq.” That investigation lasted two full years. All because Bond criticized Bush.

Also in 2004, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California was threatened with a revocation of its tax exempt status for merely criticizing Bush’s stance on the Iraq war two days before that year’s election. A rector said,  “Jesus [would say], ‘Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine.’” That investigation lasted three years, after which the IRS ruled that the church had violated rules regarding political intervention, but not to a great enough degree to revoke its status.  A lawyer for the church said, “My client is very concerned that the close coordination undertaken by the IRS allowed partisan political concerns to direct the course of the All Saints examination.” Yet, it’s funny; only one Republican spoke up out about this sort of thing; Walter Jones. The rest of them, including many who are suddenly upset at this episode, seemed delighted by that.

And if those aren’t enough, I wonder how many of you remember the time the IRS (again, under Bush) deigned to investigate an entire religious denomination, because of a speech that then-Senator Obama made at the UCC convention in 2007.  According to a UCC statement at the time;

The Internal Revenue Service has notified the United Church of Christ’s national offices in Cleveland, Ohio, that the IRS has opened an investigation into U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s address at the UCC’s 2007 General Synod as the church engaging in “political activities.”

In the IRS letter dated Feb. 20 (2008), the IRS said it was initiating a church tax inquiry “because reasonable belief exists that the United Church of Christ has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status.”

(…)

Obama, an active member of the United Church of Christ for more than 20 years, addressed the UCC’s 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Conn., on June 23, 2007, as one of 60 diverse speakers representing the arts, media, academia, science, technology, business and government. Each was asked to reflect on the intersection of their faith and their respective vocations or fields of expertise. The invitation to Obama was extended a year before he became a Democratic presidential candidate.

“The United Church of Christ took great care to ensure that Senator Obama’s appearance before the 50th anniversary General Synod met appropriate legal and moral standards,” Thomas told United Church News. “We are confident that the IRS investigation will confirm that no laws were violated.”

Imagine if the IRS had gone after, say, the Southern Baptists, in much the same way. Can anyone even imagine Issa and the GOP keeping quiet about such a thing? Yet, no Republicans objected to that probe; not even anyone from the menagerie that was running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Once again, the Republican Party demonstrates pure hypocrisy on an issue that is actually quite important.  If anything, the party that’s constantly whining about deficits should be praising the IRS for making sure tax exempt organizations comply with the law. Too many groups are claiming tax exempt status right now, and there is no way the IRS should rubber stamp these groups. Unfortunately, there are too few hard and fast rules for those who are claiming such a status. Not that Republicans would want to do something constructive, rather than whining, but they could easily write hard and fast rules for checking out these groups.

But that would require actual work. They don’t do that.

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