On Thursday, the L.A. Times published this attempt to exculpate the IRS by Matea Gold:
IRS problem started with vague tax exemption rules
IRS was ill-equipped to handle the deluge of tax-exempt applications from ‘social welfare’ organizations and to police their political activities, experts say.
In spring 2010, agents in the Cincinnati office of the Internal Revenue Service, which handles applications for tax-exempt status, faced a surge of filings by new advocacy groups, with little guidance on how to treat them.
Their decision to deal with the problem by singling out tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny has now triggered a criminal inquiry, congressional investigations, the departure of two top IRS officials and the naming of a new acting commissioner Thursday.
That was certainly the narrative being put out by Lois Lerner and other defenders of Obama when the scandal first hit. There’s just one tiny little problem with that narrative: it was factually untrue.
A number of people have sought to explain the IRS targeting of Tea Party, patriot, and 9/12 group applications — as well as those from other conservative groups — for “specialist team” treatment (mainly delays and excessive and inappropriate questions) in 2010 by pointing to the Citizens United decision that year allowing for unlimited, undisclosed fundraising by such groups. That’s the explanation IRS official Lois Lerner gave a week ago when she first revealed that the agency had improperly handled a slew of applications — the political shorthand was a mistaken attempt to deal with a surge in applications.
“[W]e saw a big increase in these kind of applications, many of which indicated that they were going to be involved in advocacy work,” Lerner said.
But Todd Young, a Republican congressman from Indiana, pointed out at Friday’s House Ways and Means Committee hearing with former acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller and Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George that this was not the case, according to the very data the IRS provided to the Treasury IG’s office.
There were, he noted, actually fewer applications for tax-exempt status by groups seeking to be recognized as social-welfare organizations that year than the previous one, according to this IRS data. The real surge in applications did not come until 2012 — the year the IRS stopped the practice of treating the Tea Party class of groups differently from others.
There were a couple of ways reporter Matea Gold could have known this. She could have analyzed the data herself to determine whether there had been a surge as she reported in her lede — or she could have read this analysis by the Chronicle of Philanthropy:
Applications for tax exemption from advocacy nonprofits had not yet spiked when the Internal Revenue Service began using what it admits was inappropriate scrutiny of conservative groups in 2010.
In fact, applications were declining, data show.
That was published on May 15, the day before Gold published her faulty L.A. Times article.
Obama defenders and the L.A. Times (sorry for the repetititions and also the redundancy!) are entitled to their own opinions — but not to their own facts. This one is worth a note to the Readers’ Representative.