By: Bethany Stotts
Accuracy in Media
The American Center for Law and Justice recently filed its second amended complaint against the U.S., the IRS, and a number of IRS officials. But this is another “phony” scandal, so don’t expect to hear about it in the mainstream media.
This is the scandal in which the IRS asked organizations to report donor lists, direct and indirect communication with legislative bodies, Internet passwords and usernames, social media postings, and even the political and charitable activities of family members. “Some of these organizations, even after receiving tax-exempt status, have been subjected to continued monitoring by the IRS based on the same unlawful purposes for which their applications were originally targeted,” states the ACLJ complaint, filed October 18.
Geoffrey Dickens wrote for the Newsbusters’ blog at the end of September that it had been approximately 60 to 90 days since “any aspect of the IRS scandal was mentioned on” the “big three morning and evening shows.” I guess we can’t get expect wall-to-wall media coverage from those sources.
But Lois Lerner’s retirement did get some mention from the media. In the September 23 article, “Lois Lerner still Hill’s favorite piñata,” Politico writer Lauren French noted that “A Democratic congressional aide said the IRS was moving toward terminating Lerner after completing an investigation into her role in the targeting controversy.” The article’s title says it all: Lerner is a punching bag, not a government official who trespassed on free speech rights. Similar excuses have been made about Susan Rice after her Sunday talk show interviews and the ensuing criticism; after all, she’s part of another “phony” scandal the Obama administration would rather have buried. For her part in the Benghazi scandal, Rice got a promotion.
“The IRS found that Lerner, who led the agency’s unit that reviewed requests for tax exemptions, mismanaged her department and was ‘neglectful of duty’ but found no evidence of political bias, the aide said,” according to Politico (emphasis added). This despite the fact that she was using unofficial email accounts on the side, and had a central role in the debacle. (Lerner is named among one of the sundry IRS officials responsible for targeting political speech by the ACLJ lawsuit).
In fact, it seems that Lerner herself knew what type of trouble was brewing for her office and the White House, given their ongoing targeting of Tea Party groups. “On March 2, 2012, Defendant Lerner received an email from IRS Deputy Division Counsel Janine Cook referring to an article in a publication known as the EO Tax Journal about congressional investigations into the IRS’s treatment of tax-exempt applications,” states the ACLJ complaint. “Defendant Lerner responded in part: ‘we’re going to get creamed.’”
Lerner—and her comrades Douglas Shulman, Sarah Hall Ingram, Nikole Flax and Judith Kindell—took to “repeatedly us[ing] nonofficial, unsecure, personal email accounts to conduct official IRS business, including sending tax return information and official classified documents to non-agency email addresses, and that Defendant Lerner alone accumulated more than 1,600 pages of emails and documents related to official IRS business in a nonofficial, unsecure, personal email account, including almost 30 pages of confidential taxpayer information,” cites the complaint.
But the American people are not supposed to get suspicious about the motives of the IRS and the Washington politicians who were—indirectly or directly—pulling its strings.
What is most striking about the complaint is how it draws a parallel timeline between the actions of Democrats in Congress and President Obama, on the one hand, and the actions of IRS officials on the other. This demonstrates that the IRS did not act in a political vacuum, but rather was under considerable pressure to conform to Congressional desires. “ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow said in a statement that the group’s lawsuit was amended because the ‘intimidation campaign conducted by the IRS is much more politically motivated and coordinated than previously thought,’” reported Newsmax.
“Embattled IRS official Sarah Hall Ingram made 155 visits to the White House [between 2011 and 2013] to meet with a top Obama White House official with whom she exchanged confidential taxpayer information over email,” reported The Daily Caller. “Of Ingram’s 165 White House meetings with White House staff, a staggering 155 of them were hosted by deputy assistant to the president for health policy Jeanne Lambrew, according to a June Watchdog.Org analysis of White House visitor records.”
Clearly, the lines of communication were open between the Obama White House and the IRS.
“In 2010, as the Obama Administration bemoaned the ‘shadowy’ influence of so-called ‘special interest’ groups, the IRS was not unaffected by this political rhetoric,” states the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform September Interim Report. “Evidence available to the Committee shows that the IRS was acutely aware of this public rhetoric and that the initial Tea Party applications were first identified and elevated due to this media attention.”
On October 19, 2010, Lerner said, “So everybody is screaming at us right now: ‘Fix it now before the election. Can’t you see how much these people are spending?’ I won’t know until I look at their 990s next year whether they have done more than their primary activity as political or not. So I can’t do anything right now.” Clearly, she was not unaffected by the political rhetoric at the time.
Were Tea Party, 9/12, Patriot and other organizations subject to “viewpoint discrimination?” Consider this testimony before the House of Representatives: One Cincinnati IRS employee testified that in “normal (c)(4) cases we must develop the concept of social welfare, such as the community newspapers, or the poor, that type. These organizations mostly concentrate on their activities on the limiting government, limiting government role, or reducing government size, or paying less tax.” He thought organizations with these values were different from other social welfare organizations.
In other words, limiting government so that other social groups can grow in the open spaces is not a social welfare concept in this IRS employee’s mind.
“Defendants knew, or reasonably should have known, that their conduct would violate Plaintiffs’ federal constitutional rights,” asserts the ACLJ lawsuit.
Some Democrats may not be taking this scandal seriously, and the news media are certainly giving them a pass. “During her appearance before the House Oversight Committee a week ago, Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.) tried to dismiss the investigation by treating the whole thing as a joke, asking [Sarah Hall] Ingram if she had ‘been consorting with the Devil,’” noted the New York Post editorial board on October 16. “When Ingram answered no, Connolly went on to ask about reports she could fly. ‘Greatly exaggerated, sir,’ she replied.”
“Getting the idea that Democrats in Congress, the White House and the IRS aren’t taking this investigation seriously?” the editorial asks.
“Looks like the joke is on us,” they conclude.
Bethany Stotts is a freelance writer, and former staff writer for Accuracy in Academia. She blogs at http://bethanystotts.wordpress.com/.