As you know, the IRS has admitted to targeting conservative groups applying for tax exempt status. An audit by its internal affairs divisions confirmed this fact. During Congressional hearings the head of the IRS tax exempt group refused to testify, asserting her 5th Amendment right against self incrimination in a potential criminal case.
Here’s my early take on the case:
The Internal Revenue Code allows entities that engage in public “welfare” to become exempt from tax – allowing donors to deduct contributions. Such entities must first apply to the IRS in Cincinnati, Ohio. A special group of highly trained technicians review those applications for technical compliance with the federal tax code. The requirements are well known, simple to meet, and in my experience rarely denied. If an application is incomplete or contains errors, those IRS technicians frequently will help modify the application so that a favorable ruling can be issued.
1. Targeting is Not the Work of Low Level IRS Employees
IRS employees in the Cincinnati office of tax exempt organizations are often life long bureaucrats – who do what they are told. Many are close to retirement and have no ax to grind. While they may have political views, they rarely express them and always seemed very neutral to me.
I would strongly suspect they had little to do with an illegal policy of targeting conservatives other than simply implementing the requirements of their supervisors. When they are interviewed by congressional investigators, I suspect they’ll roll over on their supervisors in a heartbeat.
2. Targeting is Not the Work of High Level IRS Employees
In my experience, most successful IRS bureaucrats succeed by following the system and keeping their mouths shut. They don’t challenge policy and they don’t make waves. They just want to get their pension and retire hopefully overcoming the stigma of having been being an IRS agent.
The Inspector General of the IRS determined the IRS used inappropriate criteria to target conservative groups because of “ineffective management”. That hardly explains why the head of the tax exempt group claimed the 5th amendment protection against testifying against herself in a criminal proceeding. There is more than bad management here.
However, I doubt she was a mastermind of anything and believe she and others may be offered immunity to roll over on her national IRS supervisors.
3. So Who Is Responsible? Politicians and Highest Level IRS Bureaucrats
It is way too early for us to know the answer to this question, and my understanding is the Inspector General doesn’t know either.
I suspect the perpetrators are politicians outside of the IRS who would benefit from imposing hardship on conservatives. These political operatives likely had high level contacts within the IRS and used political pressure to make this policy happen – deliberately and with conspiratorial foresight. They may and perhaps should go to prison for it. Highest level IRS leaders may have simply been a willing tool in implementing someone else’s criminal agenda. But they were the tool and not the “mastermind”. And one must be suspicious of an IRS commissioner meeting so often with political operatives in the white house.
4. So Now What?
Again, I don’t believe career IRS bureaucrats in the tax exempt group in Cincinnati deliberately targeted conservatives, nor do I believe high level IRS bureaucrats did so at the national office in Washington D.C. I suspect that someone with substantial political influence pressed the top IRS officials at the highest national level to implement this policy for political purposes.
This scandal isn’t going to die quickly. I suspect there is so much bipartisan anger and fear towards the IRS that it will continue until the political perpetrator is convicted or takes the fall for the actual perpetrator. Some IRS agents may be caught up as collateral damage – but certainly not as the “mastermind” behind this fiasco.