The revelation that the Internal Revenue Service was targeting conservative groups has drawn criticism from both parties.
But the Wall Street Journal this week revealed that the scrutiny went beyond groups that had “tea party” or “patriot” in their names. It also included groups that expressed worries about government spending, debt or taxes. It even included those organizations that wanted to “make America a better place to live,” according to new details of a government probe.
The IRS admission now is that as early as 2010 and 2011, some IRS workers appeared to be focused on political interests or leanings. According to the report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, by June
2011 these IRS specialists were combing over applications that were using the following criteria: “issues include government spending, government debt or taxes; education of the public by advocacy/lobbying to ‘make America a better place to live’; statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.”
Last year numerous tea party and conservative groups were claiming they were being singled out and had to undergo excessive and inappropriate questions, just as a list of their donors. They were considered paranoid but, as Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, famously said “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
It is extremely troubling for a democratic society when its government begins targeting segments of society not in line with its aims. IRS officials said this scrutiny was the result of actions by a few low-level civil servants in its Cincinnati office and not by any political appointees in Washington. Nor were any high level officials aware of this practice.
However, the timelines would suggest that such high level officials were aware of this heightened scrutiny while denying it was occurring.
One nagging question yet to be answered is who started ordering this scrutiny to begin with? Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), told NBC that “Somebody made the decision that they would give extra scrutiny to this particular group. And I think we have to understand why.”
While the IRS says no one from outside the agency made those determinations, we’ve now learned that IRS was less than candid about scrutinizing groups of varying political leanings as was feared.
Congress needs to undertake a thorough examination of how this started, why it was started and who was directing this new and disturbing situation when our government becomes the watchdog.