With almost every day bringing new revelations in the IRS scandal, Reuters reports today that the IRS staff reported to be involved are still in their jobs. “They’ve been scorned in televised congressional hearings for unfairly abusing tax laws, threatened with questioning in a criminal investigation and accused of using federal jobs to push a political agenda. At this point in the saga surrounding the Internal Revenue Service and its use of ‘Tea Party’ and other search terms to flag conservative groups while reviewing their applications for tax-exempt status, all of the employees caught up in the scandal are still drawing federal paychecks. The official who has become the scandal’s public face is on paid administrative leave. The former acting director, who was relieved of his job by President Barack Obama on May 15, departs on Friday. The names of low-level officials who carried out the practice have been closely guarded by IRS higher-ups and agency’s inspector general. No criminal charges have been filed.”
Meanwhile, there are reports that this singling out of conservative groups for scrutiny may have gone even beyond what we already know. According to McClatchy, “A group of anti-abortion activists in Iowa had to promise the Internal Revenue Service it wouldn’t picket in front of Planned Parenthood. Catherine Engelbrecht’s family and business in Texas were audited by the government after her voting-rights group sought tax-exempt status from the IRS. Retired military veteran Mark Drabik of Nebraska became active in and donated to conservative causes, then found the IRS challenging his church donations. While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives. The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has been sounding the alarm on this kind of behavior for over a year. After hearing from conservatives who were being targeted and seeing other examples of the Obama administration intimidating its political opponents, he said in a major speech at AEI, “Earlier this year, dozens of Tea Party-affiliated groups across the country learned what it was like to draw the attention of the speech police when they received a lengthy questionnaire from the IRS demanding attendance lists, meeting transcripts, and donor information. One of the group’s leaders described the situation this way: ‘[groups like ours] either drown … in unnecessary paper work … or you survive, and give them everything they want, only to be hung.’ The head of one national advocacy group has released documents which show that his group’s confidential IRS information found its way into the hands of a staunch critic on the Left who also happens to be a co-chairman of President Obama’s re-election committee. The only way this information could have been made public is if someone leaked it from inside the IRS. . . . [L]et’s be very clear: no individual or group in this country should have to face harassment or intimidation, or incur crippling expenses, defending themselves against their own government, simply because that government doesn’t like the message they’re advocating.”
As Leader McConnell said last week, “A number of my constituents have shared stories with my office about the IRS auditing their organizations and businesses during the recent presidential campaign for the first time ever. These folks believe the audits were conducted for no other reason than the fact that their groups were conservative. And they believe the questions they’ve been asked have more to do with their political views than their business activities. Without a proper investigation, we’ll never know. So we owe that to our constituents – to have a detailed and deliberate investigation. That’s why both House and Senate committees have begun investigations into the matter.
“That’s why, last week, every Republican on the Finance Committee signed a letter to the Inspector General for Tax Administration requesting a probe into reports that the IRS leaked confidential information about conservative groups to their political opponents. And that’s why even the FBI is looking into the matter. Because, as Attorney General Holder recently testified, the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups could have violated criminal provisions. I’m willing to bet there’s still a lot more we’ll discover: in terms of scope, in terms of timeline, in terms of who was involved – and why. But we certainly can’t go about fixing the problem – we can’t remove all those who need to be removed, we can’t put safeguards in place if they’re deemed necessary – until we find out those details. . . . [W]e need to get to the bottom of this IRS scandal. Because, at a minimum, Americans from the Left, Right, and Center should not have to worry that their government will harass or intimidate them for daring to have an opinion and express it.”