L.A. Times Columnist Robin Abcarian Falsely Implies IRS Targeted Progressive Groups and Tea Party Groups Equally
L.A. Times hack Robin Abcarian has a silly column pushing the idea that the Christie bridge-closing deal is huge while the IRS scandal and Benghazi were giant nothingburgers. There is so much nonsense in her column that I can’t attack it all in one post, or I would never get to work. So for now, let’s start with one example: her absurd contention that the IRS scandal merely represented the IRS doing its job in an evenhanded manner.
No amount of reporting can change the reality for Republicans (especially Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and proud architect of pointless, politically self-serving investigations) that the IRS was trying to do its job. In some contexts, ineptitude — say, a botched hurricane response — is scandalous. [That's the obligatory lefty link to a Web page about Katrina there. -- P]
But that’s not what happened here.
Sure, conservatives went crazy after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s famous May 2013 audit found the IRS may have flagged groups with “tea party” in their names for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
But that’s because Issa had asked the inspector general to look only at how tea party-affiliated groups were treated. He didn’t care to know, as we later found out thanks to Democrats on his committee, that the IRS was also flagging applications from liberal groups that used terms such as “progressive,” “medical marijuana” or “healthcare legislation.”
The IRS, see, was trying to prevent groups whose work is mainly political from receiving inappropriate tax-exempt status.
See? The IRS didn’t do a damned thing wrong, and it’s only because Issa’s questions focused on the treatment of conservative groups that we heard a lot about conservative groups. That’s Abcarian’s line, and she seems to actually believe it.
Abcarian strongly implies that the Inspector General didn’t even look at the treatment of progressive groups. That is utterly and completely false, as you are about to see. I’m going to give Ms. Abcarian the benefit of the doubt and assume that she is not deliberately trying to mislead her readers.
But the problem, Ms. Abcarian, is that when you put ideological blinders on, you overlook holes in your analysis. Your passage above seems to equate the concept of “flagging” applications with the concept of those applications actually receiving extra scrutiny. Had you done a little extra research, you would have found out that there is more to it. You cite a Talking Points Memo post from June 26, 2013. Let me offer you a couple of other links, starting with this CBS News story from June 27, 2013:
Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel told Congress Thursday that progressive groups seeking tax-exempt status were inappropriately flagged by IRS officials, in addition to tea party and conservative groups.
At the same time, a letter from a Treasury Department watchdog to Congress suggests that while progressives were flagged, tea party groups were subject to a much higher level of scrutiny.
Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee, Werfel acknowledged that the word “progressive” did appear on a “be on the lookout” (BOLO) list that IRS officials used to target groups for further scrutiny.
“The types of political organizations on these BOLO lists are wide ranging, but they do include ‘progressive,’” he said.
Meanwhile, in a letter released Thursday, J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA), noted that out of the 298 groups set aside for a closer look between May 2010 and May 2012, only six had the words “progress” or “progressive” in their names.
“In total, 30 percent of the organizations we identified with the words ‘progress’ or ‘progressive’ in their names were processed as potential political cases,” George wrote to Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. “In comparison, our audit found that 100 percent of the tax-exempt applications with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were processed as potential political cases during the timeframe of our audit.”
See, contrary to Abcarian’s implication, the Inspector General did look at all instances of improper targeting on both sides of the political aisle. It’s just that the overwhelming number of organizations actually targeted were conservative. This is even more clearly confirmed by a Washington Post article from the same day:
The Internal Revenue Service scrutinized “progressive” groups less harshly than conservative groups, the Treasury Inspector General said in a letter to Congress this week.
J. Russell George, the investigator who carried out a probe into the IRS’ targeting of groups that applied for tax-exempt status, said he did not limit his investigation to tea party groups.
“Our audit did not find evidence that the IRS used the ‘progressives’ identifier as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012,” George wrote in a letter to House Ways and Means ranking Democrat Rep. Sandy Levin.
The revelations come after Democrats seized on a set of redacted spreadsheets released this week that detailed the “Be On The Lookout,” or BOLO, criteria used by the IRS tax-exempt group to screen applications. On that list was “progressive” as well as “tea party.”
Although “tea party” applications were sent to a team of specialists that looked into potential political cases, Russell says, “progressive” groups were sent to a different team within the IRS for processing.
I know people don’t talk about this stuff around the water cooler, Ms. Abcarian, but it was not difficult for me to find these articles, and you could have found them too.
But then, that would have made it more difficult to put your hands on your hips and get all outraged, now, wouldn’t it?
These people are trying to rewrite history, but they’re leaving out the part where the facts matter. We can’t let this happen. I plan to have more on this absurd column. This is just Part One. Thanks to Dana.
UPDATE: Part Two is here.