The story about IRS officials targeting conservative and libertarian 501(c)(4) organizations seems to be heating up. Apparently, there was an actual policy in place as early as 2011:
The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week. The AP obtained part of the draft report, which has been shared with congressional aides.
Among the other revelations, on Aug. 4, 2011, staffers in the IRS’ Rulings and Agreements office “held a meeting with chief counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue.”
On Jan, 25, 2012, the criteria for flagging suspect groups was changed to, “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement,” the report says.
While this was happening, several committees in Congress were writing numerous letters IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to express concern because tea party groups were complaining of IRS harassment.
I see at least two issues in this. First, if groups were singled out for additional scrutiny based on the causes they espoused, that strikes me as a clear violation of First Amendment rights. Second, if there was an actual written policy in place of which managers at the IRS were aware, that means that the problem goes up to IRS senior management at the very least.
Douglas Shulman, the IRS Commissioner who adamantly denied any such targeting in his testimony before Congress in 2012, left office in November 2012 so there’s no issue of firing him over this. However, there does remain the question of whether he knew about the policies when he testified. Contempt of Congress has the potential penalty of jail time. If he lied under oath, that would add perjury to the charges.
The question for him now becomes as with other senior IRS managers what did they know and when did they know it?
The editors of the Washington Post have produced an outraged editorial on the matter:
If it was not partisanship, was it incompetence? Stupidity, on a breathtaking scale? At this point, the IRS has lost any standing to determine and report on what exactly happened. Certainly Congress will investigate, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised. Mr. Obama also should guarantee an unimpeachably independent inquiry.
One line of questioning should focus on how the IRS’s procedures failed to catch this “shortcut” before its employees began using it. Another should center on how this misguided practice came to light, and on what the IRS planned and plans to do about it. Ms. Lerner was responding to a question when the news first came out; it’s not clear whether the government intended otherwise to disclose what had happened. Nor have officials been clear whether disciplinary measures have been taken.
Tax collectors are never popular. Tax collectors who use the power of their office to harass people they don’t like are criminals. That strikes to the very heart of the organization. For that reason tax collectors, like Caesar’s wife, must be beyond reproach.