In Tuesday’s episode of the ongoing IRS “scandal,” the House Ways and Means Committee met with representatives from six organizations that were targeted by the IRS during their application process for 501(c)(3) or 501 (c)(4) tax exempt status.
The at-times emotional testimony from the witnesses were not dissimilar—allegations of long waits for responses from IRS officials on the status of their applications, odd and intrusive questions about the content of the groups’ public prayers and protests, and requirements that they refrain from targeting groups like Planned Parenthood, as well as the depletion of already low funds during the lengthy tax-exemption process were shared by all six.
Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. David Camp (R-MI) said in his opening statement, “At its core, this investigation is about how and why the IRS was empowered and allowed to use a broken tax code to abuse individuals based on their beliefs—and seemingly only based on their beliefs.” The comments from committee members demanded accountability, offered sympathy regardless of political affiliation, and ensured that justice would be served at all levels of the IRS.
One of the witnesses, Karen L. Kenney of the San Fernando Valley Patriots in Encino, CA, detailed her unjust experience of discriminatory tactics at the hands of the IRS. Her critical advice for the government agency: “I think the IRS needs to fix its labeling machine. We’re the San Fernando Valley Patriots, not Occupy Oakland.”
The recommendations from the witnesses to members of Congress were mostly to arrest and charge those responsible. One witness, Kevin Kookogey, the president and founder of Linchpins of Liberty: An American Leadership Development Enterprise, even suggested impeaching President Obama for his “Nixonian” tactics.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) said, “This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It should not be.” Other Democrats had slightly different opinions.
Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) said in his statement, “None of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced. We are talking about whether or not the American public will subsidize your work. Each of your groups is highly political.”
In a contentious rebuttal, Paul Ryan (R-WI) discarded his planned statements in order to address McDermott. Ryan reiterated the same old message alleged by every GOP leader—conservative groups fell victim to a Democratic administration that targeted and impeded these groups from obtaining tax-exempt status solely based on their political views.
In fact, during Kevin Kookegey’s testimony, he stated, “I believe that the present administration—through its agency, the IRS—is engaged in an exercise to coerce us to submit to the administration’s desire to fundamentally transform America, and in so doing it is wreaking havoc and destruction on human liberty.” He continued, “Delaying the granting of our tax-exempt status because of our political views or conditioning our rights on how we choose to exercise them is a violation not only of our Constitution, but of the laws of Nature and Nature’s God. Rather than engaging us in debate, this administration—through its agency, the IRS—has attempted to penalize and destroy those who hold opposing views.”
What Republicans failed to acknowledge is the list of progressive groups also targeted by the IRS. Representative John Lewis (D-GA) asked “where was the outrage” when progressive groups were targeted in the same way during the Bush administration? Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY), in agreement with Lewis, submitted a full list of targeted progressive groups for the record.
Tuesday’s hearing had a little bit of everything—empathy for the “ victims,” blame for the political opposition, overuse of the word “scandal,” and of course the the predictable calls for the president’s impeachment.
What was noticeably absent were any suggestions to fix the real problem.
In 2010, the Supreme Court sided with the conservative group Citizens United and in effect opened up a loophole for groups to file for 501 (c)(4) status and run political ads without having to disclose their donors. Since that decision, the number of such applications has increased tremendously.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes discussed this issue saying, “Now, here is the thing the IRS appears to have done unequivocally wrong, that we all agree was absolutely inexcusable. They reacted to all this by targeting one part of the ideological spectrum in looking at whether this flood of new applicants passed the smell test. Being skeptical about a new wave of wolves in sheep’s clothing invading the non-profit game was entirely appropriate.” This is precisely what seems to be the real issue, the actual “scandal” at the IRS—but the effect of an overflow of applications on a drowning IRS staff is consistently ignored.
Instead of productive discussion to solve this issue, what we see is a lot of what was displayed at Tuesday’s hearing. A lineup of witnesses made up solely of individuals from conservative groups called upon by the House Republican majority to criticize and discredit the Democratic administration — and as usual, no discussion of a pragmatic way to fix the system.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak