Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

That’s my question for the day.  From the NYT, quoting Eric Holder, who cannot be the most credible source this week,

“The F.B.I. is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the I.R.S.,” Mr. Holder told reporters. “Those were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable, but we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations.”

Targeting conservative groups might not be criminal.  “Intolerable” but based on “inappropriate criteria”; that is a management problem, not anything criminal.  Well, how about this, “The progressive-leaning investigative journalism group ProPublica says the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) office that targeted and harassed conservative tax-exempt groups during the 2012 election cycle gave the progressive group nine confidential applications of conservative groups whose tax-exempt status was pending.”  Is that criminal?  Maybe that is merely about freedom of information.

Reading James Taranto , the problem with conservative groups is that they acknowledge themselves as political.

[About ProPublica,] We should acknowledge that “left-leaning” is our characterization; ProPublica describes itself in its own tax filings as “entirely non-partisan and non-ideological.” ProPublica is legally obliged to be nonpartisan, for it enjoys tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which means that contributions to it are tax-deductible. By contrast, the organizations the IRS has acknowledged targeting on ideological grounds are 501(c)(4)s, meaning that they are permitted to engage in some political activity and only their operations are exempt from taxes . . . .

But there’s something especially rich about the IRS’s use of a 501(c)(3), an organization that is supposed to be above politics altogether, to violate the confidentiality of a 501(c)(4), which is permitted to engage in some political activity.

This raises the question of why the IRS is allowed to define what is politics and what is in the the public interest and not politics: for tax exemptions, anyway.  The IRS does the same thing with churches, deciding which are expressing forbidden political views and which are not.  Here’s one for the future, if churches, the Catholic Church, for example, chooses to fight birth control mandates in The Affordable Care Act, suggesting that voting for one candidate over another will protect their religious liberties, can the IRS remove their tax exempt status?

But I am losing my point, which is about watching the spin.  About Benghazi, pity Susan Rice; she can’t be blamed.   The Attorney General has nothing to do with what happens at the Justice Department , so cannot be blamed and has put forward a “credible justification” in the AP case, according the New York Times .

So, today and going forward, what is beginning to concern the media is how the scandals will be used by conservatives. There are threats to liberty and then there are threats to liberalism and people should know what is important.  Here we go. 

If these scandals are indeed affecting the ideological landscape, this is bad news for liberals. It’s not just that the opposite ideology is getting some help from government bunglers, but the media is exacerbating the problem. Liberals believe that there is a role for government to play in mediating market failures, and there are plenty of stories of areas where the safety net is thinning as a result of sequestration—from cancer treatments to Head Start to Meals-on-Wheels—where government should step in. But those stories get lost in the scandal coverage of an administration, making it look like conservatives fundamentally understand something that liberals do not.

More humor, because we may be able to do nothing but laugh about these things.

Update and funny in a different way:  David Axelrod

Another update, Jason L. Riley relates our IRS problems to what happens in the EPA.

Government agencies like the EPA typically waive so-called Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request fees for groups disseminating information for public benefit, but it’s up to the agency to decide whether a fee-waiver is justified. At the EPA, fees were waived for liberal environmental groups like Greenpeace and EarthJustice almost always. Meanwhile, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank, “had its requests denied 93 percent of the time.”

There’s more:

from John Eastman, a constitutional law professor at Chapman University, is chairman of the National Organization for Marriage:

Our case was particularly egregious because the IRS leak of confidential information fed directly into an ongoing political battle. For months before March 2012, the pro-gay marriage HRC had been demanding that my group, NOM, publicly identify its major donors, something that NOM and many other non-profits refuse to do. The reason is simple. In the past, gay marriage advocates have used such information to launch campaigns of intimidation against traditional marriage supporters.

Back to the spin:
It’s no surprise, then, that Democrats have been angling to blame all this on the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to allow more independent campaign spending. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded to the scandal by saying that “We must overturn Citizens United, which has exacerbated the challenges posed by some of these so-called ‘social welfare’ organizations.” So a Supreme Court decision justifies selective tax enforcement?



Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles