IRS 'Scandal'? I Dissent (Based on Current Information)

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. President Barack Oba
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. President Barack Obama expressed confidence that he and Congress would reach an agreement that will avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax increases that are scheduled to occur at the end of the year. The fiscal cliff is the $607 billion combination of automatic spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect in January. Lawmakers are trying to avert the cliff to prevent a short-term shock to the economy and reach an agreement on long-term deficit reduction. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On the face of it, the IRS "targeting" tea party, or other political, groups seems chilling. It reminds one of the Nixon "enemies list" and Karl Rove firing U.S. attorneys because they would not play along with his phony "voter fraud" schemes and Karl Rove presenting slide shows of key election districts to the General Services Administration and Karl Rove singling out Valerie Plame as "fair game."

But, let us be very clear first that the IRS in this so-called "scandal" was automating a way to do its job -- determine whether organizations like Karl Rove's 501(c)4 groups were really "social welfare" organizations so that its donors could remain secret and be tax exempt, or whether they were political organizations requiring donor transparency.

That is, the IRS was not poking its nose into matters beyond its legitimate role. It was doing what the law assigned it.

This distinguishes it right at the outset from Nixon's enemies' list, or Karl Rove's firing U.S. attorneys for not playing along with his political schemes, or Rove's "wink-wink" suggestions to the GSA regarding government procurements or Rove's role in the outing of Valerie Plame. These were all invented out of thin air.

In order to its job, the IRS consolidated this operation in one office and adopted computer search tools designed to raise to its attention those organizations that were claiming this very vague and subjective distinction.

Considering the public statements from right-wing groups that were cropping up almost daily, it was not irrational to use those terms as a computer search tool to find some of the groups that the IRS was charged by law with evaluating. It would help to know what other terms they used to search the databases. So far as I know, only 25 percent of the organizations they identified were right-wing or tea-party-related. That is likely a lower percentage of such groups than actually exists.

Hearings should be held on this matter. Absolutely. There is a scandal but, until learning that the IRS only looked at the right-wing groups, I dissent from the knee-jerk reaction that indeed IRS's choice of computer search terms was either biased or a scandal.

The real scandal is that any group trying to influence political discourse may hide its donors. If there were, as there should be, universal transparency regardless of the group's designation, then the IRS would not even be involved. I, for one, take no comfort that no group was denied its tax-exempt, transparency-free status.

Yes. Have the hearings. Karl Rove, among others, should be called to testify explaining how his organizations were, indeed, social welfare groups.