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Politically motivated scrutiny won’t help curb abuses by secret money groups.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
A few months before the 2010 midterm elections that were disastrous for him and his party, President Barack Obama decried the “flood of attack ads run by shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names.”
“We don’t know who’s behind these ads, and we don’t know who’s paying for them,” Obama said in his Aug. 21, 2010, weekly address. The president blamed the proliferation of secret money groups on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, and he blasted congressional Republicans for doing nothing to contain the influence of such groups.
Nearly three years later, Obama’s administration is on the defensive over revelations that the Internal Revenue Service used politically motivated criteria to scrutinize the applications of “social welfare” groups seeking tax-exempt status. According to an inspector general’s audit, the IRS devoted extra attention to organizations with harmless-sounding words like “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, as well as groups that made statements criticizing the government or were involved in “educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
The IRS has apologized. Obama said Monday that the agency’s overreach was “outrageous” and that those responsible for it will be held accountable. Republicans in Congress are demanding investigations. Virginia’s senators, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, have joined the chorus of condemnation. Warner said those found to be responsible should be fired, and we agree.
One of the three articles of impeachment the House Judiciary Committee issued in 1974 charged that President Richard Nixon and his henchmen used the IRS to conduct tax audits and other investigations “in a discriminatory manner” against their political enemies. The idea that the IRS would use overtly discriminatory tactics four decades later is “absolutely chilling,” as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Sunday.
Whether or not the actions of the IRS were initiated in the White House, they further poison a political climate that Obama promised to cleanse when he ran for the presidency in 2008. The backlash makes it less likely that the federal government will take legitimate steps to curb abuses by political groups of all stripes that exploit the “social welfare” exemption solely to conceal their donors.
For both of these reasons, American voters are the losers in this sorry spectacle.
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