Saturday, May 18, 2013

IRS scandal is worse than Benghazi for Obama

300px-IRS.svgOver the past week, the Obama Administration has been repeatedly rocked by scandals. Beginning with last week’s hearings on the pre-election attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of ambassador Chris Stevens, President Obama has endured a steady stream of bad news.

Although the Benghazi hearing has raised the ire of conservatives, the real danger to the Obama Administration comes from the domestic scandals. In particular Obama’s problems with the Internal Revenue Service can fire the imaginations and anger of the American people.

As reported by Examiner last October, the fundamentals of the Benghazi fiasco were known within weeks after the attack. The recent hearings have confirmed that President Obama lied about the nature of the attack to avoid having his foreign policy questioned just before the election. Benghazi never captured the public’s imagination, however. Even though a U.S. ambassador, a consulate employee, and two former Navy Seals were killed by al Qaeda-linked militants, the media mostly ignored the story of the cover-up. The American public, weary of war after more than a decade of fighting, seemed unwilling to get angry over the attack, even if it was the result of Obama’s foreign policy or Secretary of State Clinton’s refusal to reinforce the consulate’s security forces. This week’s revelations of IRS bullying and Justice Department subpoenas of Associated Press phone records seem likelier to hit home, each for different reasons.

In the best of times, the IRS is probably the most reviled federal agency. Nobody likes taxes. Tax collectors have been unpopular with taxpayers since long before the days when Matthew and Zacchaeus repented of abuse of power in their chosen profession. More recently, the IRS scandal began with an apology from Lois Lerner, director of the Exempt Organizations Division, for what she termed as the targeting of conservative groups for additional scrutiny on their applications for tax exempt status. The problem, she said, lay with low level workers in Cincinnati who acted independently. It quickly became apparent that the IRS confession barely scratched the surface.

· In 2009, the IRS tried to force board members of a pro-life group to sign a statement promising “under perjury of the law, they do not picket/protest or organize groups to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood” in order to gain tax exemption according to the Thomas More Law Center.

· In 2010, Z Street, a pro-Israel group, sued the IRS after being told that its application would take longer because it was “connected to Israel” according to the Jewish Press.

· In September 2010, the Weekly Standard reported that Austan Goolsbee, the head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, criticized Koch Industries, citing confidential tax information that was not publicly available.

· Anne Henderschott, a Catholic professor and blogger, was targeted by the IRS for audits after she wrote several articles challenging liberal Catholic groups who supported Obamacare. According to the Blaze, many of the questions in the audit were political.

· In April 2011, Secure America Now, an organization critical of Obama’s foreign policy toward North Korea, Iran, Israel and Libya had its tax exemption held up twice by the IRS according to the WSJ. The investigation intensified after the group produced a popular video about the Benghazi attack.

· In May 2011, Bloomberg reported that the IRS had attempted to retroactively tax gifts made to tax exempt groups “supporting Republican causes.”

· In March 2012, the Puffington Host published private information about donors to the National Organization for Marriage that it admitted had been obtained from the IRS.

· In June 2012, Idaho businessman Frank Vandersloot was subjected to a series of audits after being mentioned in an Obama campaign as one of several “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records” who donated to Romney. VanderSloot passed the audits with flying colors.

· From December 2012 to January 2013, the IRS gave the left-leaning group Pro Publica confidential tax information about conservative groups.

· In April 2013, just a few weeks before the scandal broke, CNET reported that internal IRS communications state that Americans have “generally no privacy” in electronic communications such as email and Facebook chats. The IRS position is that no warrant is required to access email. This in spite of judicial rulings to the contrary.

As new victims of IRS abuse come forward, it is evident that the IRS harassed only conservatives. It is also apparent that the problem went beyond merely denying tax exempt status to conservative groups. The IRS sought membership lists from conservative groups, targeted Obama opponents with audits and slow-tracking of approvals, and leaked confidential tax information to liberal groups. The IRS also apparently tried to influence and limit the political speech of individuals and groups opposed to President Obama.

Contrary to the official IRS explanation, at least two IRS offices were involved. According to the Washington Post, letters to conservative groups seeking information about donors also came from the Washington, D.C. and California offices. At least one group was told that their application was under review in Washington.

While such heavy-handed tactics were once the province of many Democratic presidents from FDR to JFK according to historian James Bovard, Congress has since enacted legislation to restrict political contacts between the IRS and the White House. To put President Obama’s current predicament into perspective, the second article of impeachment against Richard Nixon involved using tax information for illegal purposes and auditing political opponents.

The matter of the Justice Department’s AP investigation is less pressing to most Americans, but has the potential to turn members of the media against the Obama Administration. The New Yorker called the AP investigation “aggressive.” The Wall Street Journal notes that the AP subpoenas were “broad, violating normal Justice practice of narrowly tailoring requests that concern the media.” The Justice Department overreach may entice a press corps that mostly sympathizes with Obama to take a more adversarial tack.

President Obama immediately tried to distance himself from the scandals. On May 13, he called the IRS an “independent agency,” an assessment that disputes. The IRS is actually a branch of the Treasury Department. The president appoints the heads of both the IRS and the Treasury Department, a fact subtly acknowledged by President Obama when he fired Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller on Thursday. Miller would have left the post in June anyway.

President Obama’s problems may not be solved that easily. Abuse of power in federal agencies seems to be increasing under President Obama. According to the Wall St. Journal, the Environmental Protection Agency has favored groups that share its political agenda, charging conservative groups for Freedom of Information Act requests while waiving fees for liberal groups. Earlier this year, a court ruled the president’s appointments to the National Labor Relations Board unconstitutional, but the board keeps issuing rulings. In Obama’s first term, several courts decided that the EPA acted outside its legal authority as Examiner reported last year. Obama’s Interior Department was held in contempt in 2010 for refusing to issue new drilling permits after Obama’s unilateral drilling moratorium was ruled unconstitutional.

Whether President Obama personally ordered the IRS to investigate and bully conservative groups or not, there can be little doubt that he set the tone that encouraged the harassment. Kimberly Strassel points out that many of Obama’s speeches that deride conservative groups as “less than reputable” and made thinly veiled calls for their investigation. Senate Democrats went even further notes Karl Rove. On two separate occasions, in 2010 and 2012, Democratic senators sent letters to the IRS demanding investigation of political groups.

Voters are angry about the IRS scandal. A Rasmussen poll released Wednesday indicated that a majority of Americans feel that the IRS agents responsible should be punished. Forty-one percent believe they should be fired while 29 percent support a formal reprimand. Sixteen percent believe that jail time is warranted. Fifty-seven percent believe that the investigations were politically motivated and 55 percent believe that President Obama and his top aides were aware of what the IRS was doing.

While impeachment hearings will not be held any time soon, it is also unlikely that the IRS abuse of power scandal will disappear any time soon. Americans will likely think of their own tax troubles when they hear the tales of politically motivated audits. The problem may be even worse for Obama if voters realize that the IRS will be responsible for much of the implementation of the new health care rules under Obamacare.

Originally published on Examiner:

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