Late Saturday we posted a Scrogues Converse Roundtable looking at the IRS/Tea Party controversy. The debate got started when our colleague Dr. Sid Bonesparkle suggested that perhaps the IRS wasn’t out of line in taking a good hard look at organizations dedicated to undermining the tax system trying to organize using 501 status, which is reserved for social welfare oriented nonprofits.
Perhaps Sid was, if anything, too generous regarding the alleged facts of the case. Surprise, surprise: The version of the story that, thanks to the slothfulness of our corporate media establishment, has now been accepted as gospel turns out to be inaccurate.
The corporate media is blasting out the story that the IRS “targeted conservative groups.” Some in the media say there was “IRS harassment of conservative groups.” Some of the media are going so far as claiming that conservative groups were “audited.”
This story that is being repeated and treated as “true” is just not what happened at all. It is one more right-wing victimization fable, repeated endlessly until the public has no choice except to believe it.
Conservative Groups Were Not “Targeted,” “Singled Out” Or Anything Else
You are hearing that conservative groups were “targeted.” What you are not hearing is that progressive groups were also “targeted.” So were groups that are not progressive or conservative.
All that happened here is that groups applying to the IRS for special tax status were checked to see if they were engaged in political activity. They were checked, not targeted. Only one-third of the groups checked were conservative groups.
Once again: Only one-third of the groups checked were conservative groups.
Conservative groups were not “singled out,” were not “targeted” and in the end none were denied special tax status – even though many obviously should have been.
Bloomberg details three progressive groups that were probed, noting that one of them had its application rejected.
The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.
One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.
Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries. [emphasis added]
All told, the IRS’s poking about seems to have been extensive and non-partisan.
…agency officials told lawmakers in a briefing yesterday that 471 groups received additional scrutiny, a total that indicates a crackdown on politically active nonprofit groups that extends beyond the Tea Party outfits.
A look at the questions presented to Progress Texas suggests that if the Tea Party was being “harassed,” so were they.
“Progress Texas and the Tea Party strongly disagree on the role of government,” the group’s executive director, Ed Espinoza, said in a statement. “Yet, when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that Tea Party groups are complaining about. The similar treatment indicates the IRS was likely addressing a flood of 501c4 applications after Citizens United, and undermines the paranoid notion that Tea Party groups were singled out.”
The questions resembled the list of 35 questions (PDF) sent to the Liberty Township Tea Party, which has complained of IRS harassment.
The year 2010 began a busy period for the IRS office in Cincinnati, the home of the tax-exempt determinations unit. That January, the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision, which loosened the rules governing contributions to political causes and candidates. Applications flooded in to the office from groups seeking tax-exempt status, many with a political agenda.
The IRS has admitted it flagged applications from groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. But applications from other groups were closely scrutinized as well.
An Austin, Texas-based progressive group, Progress Texas, was one of them. Its executive director, Ed Espinoza, says it took almost a year and a half for the IRS to review the application from his organization.
In 2010, some 1,700 applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status came into the Cincinnati office. That number nearly doubled by 2012. Yet according to the IRS Inspector General’s Report, just one person was originally given the task of sifting through the applications deemed politically sensitive.
Another application that seemingly got caught up in the backlog came from a group of journalists in Chicago. The Chicago News Cooperative provided news for the Midwest edition of The New York Times. The co-op also sought tax-exempt status. Veteran journalist James O’Shea, a former managing editor of The Chicago Tribune, was in charge.
“There were political organizations trying to get these exemptions, and I think the IRS was concerned — and probably appropriately so — that some of these news organizations were really political organizations,” he says, “and so they were examining that, and we just got caught up in that.”
For more than two years, the Chicago News Cooperative waited for an IRS ruling. But without tax-exempt status, foundation support dried up, and the cooperative went out of business. [emphasis added]
The final score, then: Conservative groups “targeted” accounted for about a third of the total. None were denied nonprofit status. Meanwhile, at least one liberal group was turned down and at least one innocent bystander was forced out of business.
All thanks to a pro-corporate, pro-conservative Supreme Court ruling.
It’s probably not fair to assume that big money media organizations are always wrong, but you have to be positively daft to assume that you’re getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from them.