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May 20, 2013 1:45 PM Bordering On a Big Lie

By Ed Kilgore

Well, looks like I spoke too soon in suggesting that Republican Members of Congress weren’t interested in a legislative response to the botched IRS scrutiny of organizations applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. The Hill’s Pete Kasperowicz has the story:

House Republicans last week proposed legislation that would suspend the ability of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to conduct audits until the IRS itself is audited by Congress.
The bill, from Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), is the latest in a string of measures that have been offered in the wake of the IRS’s admission it applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups over the last few years. Republicans have said those activities were politically motivated and went unreported by senior Obama administration officials in the run-up to the 2012 election.
“We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Fleming said last week. “Tea party groups, conservative professors, opinion makers who dared to speak out against Obama, and even Billy Graham were targeted for interrogations that dug into private records, seeking information on everything from donor names to Facebook posts.
“The IRS has breached the trust of the American people and its misuse of the authority to audit must be stopped while Congress investigates the breadth of this scandal.”
Fleming’s Audit the IRS Act would prevent these sorts of inquiries for 180 days, which would give Congress time to examine “how audits were misused and who is responsible for any criminal actions.”

I hate to keep confusing the “narrative” with facts, but when it comes to the 501(c)(4s), we aren’t talking about tax audits. These were reviews of applications that nobody was required to submit, and that nobody needed to submit unless they were pretty sure they were on the borders of political activities incompatible with tax-exempt status (otherwise, they could just file their tax returns like anyone else and claim tax-exempt status). As for the Graham “charities,” these were 501(c)(3)s that are subject to much stricter scrutiny, and were gearing up for a massive political ad campaign in North Carolina in favor of a same-sex marriage ban. Even then, nobody was kicking down Billy Graham’s door and seizing his files or assets; it was a review of the organizations’ status, which was quickly concluded.

What Fleming is transparently doing is conflating this activity with IRS tax return audits, and suggesting conservatives are in dire danger of all getting hauled into tax court or off to prison (much as is colleague Mike Kelley did in his inflammatory line of questioning—or more accurately speechmaking—in the House Ways & Means Committee on Friday. It’s all based on a lie bordering on a Big Lie. But if Republicans are going to go in that direction, they should at least let us know how they intend to make up the revenue lost if they insist on paralyzing all IRS tax enforcement actions.

Oh, yeah, I forgot: entitlement reform!

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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