The Op-Ed Style That Won’t Go Away

by Dave Schuler on February 26, 2014

I really wish that op-eds whose titles are questions would at least make a stab at answering the questions in those titles. Take the example of Thomas Edsall’s recent New York times column, “Why the IRS Scandal Won’t Go Away”. After reading it I came away disappointed. Unless you’re convinced that the only reasons the scandal won’t go away are Karl Rove and the Koch brothers, it doesn’t even try to address the question.

I think the reasons the scandal won’t go away are that

  1. It’s a legitimate scandal.
  2. The House has a legitimate oversight responsibility.
  3. IRS officials have lied, misled, and stonewalled House committees.
  4. The lying, misleading, and stonewalling keep the ball up in the air.
  5. The draft rules proposed by the IRS to remedy the abuses have been deemed even worse than the rules under which they have been operating by just about everybody. At least they’re bringing people together. The ACLU, Heritage Foundation, and Sierra Club all hate the new rules.

Does the scandal reach as far as the White House? Frankly, I doubt it but who knows? As the late Dan Rostenkowski used to say “Never take a bribe. Just hand ‘em your business card.” Clear directions and a smoking gun aren’t necessary to make something an abuse of power and, consequently, a scandal. Departments of the federal government should not be, as one editorial put it, “weaponized” as attack vehicles deployed against the administration’s political opponents.

Now maybe Mr. Edsall never intended to answer that question in his column. Maybe the title was supplied by an editor. If that’s the case, it’s pretty lousy editing.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw February 26, 2014 at 9:36 am

I was momentarily pleased when I got to the end of the piece and saw that the NYTimes was going to recognize that “the losers will be the bit-players” like the small local groups that have been harassed by the IRS. Amen.

And Lois Lerner? WTF!?! The harasser is a bit-player? In what moral universe? Karl Rove made her do it? If she hadn’t quit, she should have been fired. She probably should have been fired the moment she took the Fifth before the oversight committee. Sure, taking the Fifth is not an admission of criminal wrongdoing, but it is evidence that she did her job poorly at best, maliciously at worse.

Dave Schuler February 26, 2014 at 9:39 am

Karl Rove made her do it?

I think that this is the essential problem with treating politics as though it were war. Because your enemy is vile, anything is justified.

She probably should have been fired the moment she took the Fifth before the oversight committee.

That’s my position. That so many federal officers have lied and misled Congress tarnishes the administration. I don’t claim that they’re doing the White House’s bidding by their actions but it certainly puts fuel on that fire. And that’s the reason that the scandal won’t go away.

PD Shaw February 26, 2014 at 10:20 am

Perhaps the worst thing about the focus on Karl Rove is that it enhances his perceived worth way beyond what it deserves. By all accounts, other than his own, Crossroads GPS had no success in the last election cycle other than raising and spending money.

steve February 26, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Meh. Does anyone really believe that a group with Tea PArty in its name was not really a political organization? Just do away with the 501s. Make all donations public knowledge.

Steve

Dave Schuler February 26, 2014 at 5:57 pm

So, you’re saying that you want to tax churches, labor unions, and the Chamber of Commerce?

PD Shaw February 26, 2014 at 6:18 pm

steve apparently also would like to discourage a whole lot of civil rights lawsuits that were funded by anonymous donors in support unpopular points of view.

jan February 26, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I can’t argue with any of the 5 points listed as to why the IRS scandal won’t go away. It will be interesting, though, to see what Learner’s continuing role will be in all this. Will she get immunity to testify? Or, will she be in contempt if she doesn’t talk without immunity and be put into jail?

Everyone is saying that she is the key player in all this, and was actually directing traffic as to what application would be set aside for the IRS gauntlet, deliberately slowing these citizen groups down or discouraging their formation altogether.

PD Shaw February 26, 2014 at 8:07 pm

I seem to recall that steve might be in favor of non-taxation of corporations, in which case taxation of churches, labor unions, and the Chamber of Commerce might be irrelevant.

In any event, there is a large problem with using the IRS to police electioneering (in advance nonetheless), which is the job of the FEC, and the policy should persist regardless of tax structure.

steve February 27, 2014 at 7:44 am

Yes, I do favor eliminating corporate taxation. I dont see why we favor churches, unions and others. At any rate, I think PD kind of gets it. Why do we think it is even possible for the IRS to figure out who is a social welfare group and who is political. It is obvious as hell that people are using this to hide political contributions. No matter what regs you pass, this is a permanent scandal waiting to happen. Suppose a true right wing nut gets elected to POTUS and starts carrying out right wing dreams (Senate does away with the filibuster). In response, you would generate a massive number of left wing groups, say, the Arugula Party. All of a sudden the IRS gets hit with a massive number of groups with Arugula Party in their name, claiming they are social welfare groups, which would be total BS just like the Tea Party groups. What does the IRS do?

Steve

steve February 27, 2014 at 7:47 am

As to Learner, if Congress really wants to know what happened, grant her immunity. If you really believe she was taking orders from higher up, she is small potatoes. However, if you just want to drag this out for electioneering, do not grant her immunity and keep this on the burner.

Steve

Cstanley February 27, 2014 at 8:23 am

I think Steve’s points are on target, but it is a interesting that this principle is now being noted by liberals as it applied to the recent upswing of right wing groups as the. Tea Party gained momentum.

Nonprofit groups will almost always have political interests intersecting with their missions, and most nonprofit groups have skewed toward liberal causes much more than conservative ones. Suddenly Democrats are seeing a problem with the political underpinnings when right wingers become more involved in these activities.

Consider, for instance, this statement by Terry McCauliffe, and try to tell me with a straight face that there isn’t a double standard:

“Planned Parenthood is a strong voice for women in Virginia and was a key partner in my run for governor,” said Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who outpaced his GOP opponent last year by 9 points among women, in a statement. “The team at [Planned Parenthood] provided essential support to my campaign and highlighted issues around women’s health that provided a clear contrast between me and my opponent.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/02/planned-parenthood-2014-elections-104007.html#ixzz2uX4E99Dl

Dave Schuler February 27, 2014 at 8:52 am

I agree that the corporate income tax should be abolished. However, as I’ve pointed out before not every post is about every thing, this post isn’t about abolishing the corporate income tax, abolishing the 501(c)1-29 classifications won’t automatically abolish the corporate income tax, and, failing the abolition of the corporate income tax, abolishing the various 501 classifications will probably do more harm than good.

As I see it communications between the White House or Congress and the IRS need to be more structured and open to scrutiny than they are. The IRS’s making decisions about what is or is not allowable political activity will continue for the foreseeable future and we need to be able to ensure they’re doing it with an even hand.

PD Shaw February 27, 2014 at 10:17 am

“Why do we think it is even possible for the IRS to figure out who is a social welfare group and who is political.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the standard is completely unworkable. It worked for decades, and a number of organizations with names like “Illinois Republicans” or “Citizens for Mitt Romney” had their applications rejected with directions to refile. Many nonprofits organize without professional assistance, and the IRS is actually helping people when they file under the wrong organization.

The problem started when the IRS became concerned about a risk that the social welfare organizations would be the source of covert funding for issue advocacy, but the people most likely to know and act on it would also be the most capable of filling out the forms to conceal what they were doing, probably with an attorney’s gift for wordplay. Crossroads GPS is fine, but Aunties for Tea Parties, a social organization dedicated to raising awareness of tea, gets harassed.

If the application does not contain low-hanging fruit, the competent agency will keep the application on file and watch. The IRS is not without remedies if its been lied to.

jan February 27, 2014 at 10:35 am

“All of a sudden the IRS gets hit with a massive number of groups with Arugula Party in their name, claiming they are social welfare groups, which would be total BS just like the Tea Party groups. What does the IRS do?”

It’s not up to the IRS to play judge and jury towards groups, like the Tea Party, who became proactive under a spontaneous combustion type force towards government policies they found to be threatening and abusive.

The Tea Party, whether you love or hate them, did not have a Soros type sponsorship funding them. They were activated under a common cause kind of passion, summarily dismissed/ignored by the press and their opponents until they demonstrated enough coordination and effectiveness to influence the 2010 midterm elections. It was then that the IRS became unleashed and prodded by a whole array of democrats to look into and literally go after these groups.

Unlike union goons, though, who pay people to picket, or Soros who funnels money through all kinds of multi-named tributaries, tea party chapters grew from citizen unease, were self-funded, encouraging people to become aware of, knowledgeable, and vocally protective of their constitutional rights — thus becoming more than just government-indoctrinated morons who passively accept and go along with anything the government demands of them. So, yes, I would say that the Tea Party movement indeed fit the description of “social welfare groups.”

PD Shaw February 27, 2014 at 10:43 am

@steve, I’m not sure you get to a neutral position by eliminating nonprofit tax exemptions, thus forcing all of them to file regular corporate tax returns. For-profit businesses will probably be able to do a lot of issue advocacy and write it off as a business expense or goodwill. Its not clear that environmental groups, for example, could do the same, since they are not really a business in the conventional sense.

steve February 27, 2014 at 3:51 pm

PD- You are correct that for-profit businesses will be able to cheat a bit. I dont think that means we should continue with the farce of 501s. There is no foolproof way to figure out who is 51% political and who is 49%. If you want to spend a lot more money on it, you could probably do better, but there are still going to be individual problems. Having a larger unit, permanently overstaffed, would be better able to handle a sudden flood of applications. I dont think that is an effective use of tax money. There are two ways to resolve this. Just approve everyone, or eliminate the 501. I prefer the latter.

(I dont really know how well they have handled this in the past. I dont think anyone knows. What independent group would you trust to assess whether they made correct decisions about who is political and who is not?)

Steve

steve February 27, 2014 at 3:55 pm

“It’s not up to the IRS to play judge and jury towards groups, like the Tea Party”

Actually, it is. That is my point. A group of (I assume) accountants is being asked to assess if groups are 51% political or 49% political. They are, by definition, judge and jury. I am asking that they no longer be given that job. Do away with 501s. Make all donations transparent.

Steve

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