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May 13, 2014 11:21 AM Reality Re-Check on the IRS “Scandal”

By Ed Kilgore

Since conservatives are showing every sign of bringing the “IRS Scandal” back as part of their narrative of a lawless Obama administration persecuting its enemies, let’s remind ourselves what the supposed “targeting” of right-wing political groups does and doesn’t involve. It does not involve IRS agents auditing tax returns and kicking down doors and seizing assets and generally doing the sorts of things that strike fear into the hearts of most Americans. It does involve alleged selective foot-dragging and pettifogging on applications for pre-certification of tax-exempt status by political groups pretending to be “social welfare entities” who want to run political ads without disclosing their donors to the FEC.

Is the ability to obtain pre-certification of tax-exempt status by political groups pretending to be “social welfare entities” who want to run political ads without disclosing their donors to the FEC a cherished fundamental liberty? I don’t think so. Did the “targeted” groups who didn’t get their 501(c)(4) status when they wanted it suffer grievous harm, beyond lawyer’s fees? No, unless your perspective is that of the Citizens United camp that views money as speech and treats any encumberance or regulation as a threat to freedom of expression.

If it were up to me, no organization, left, right or center, that runs political ads would qualify as a 501(c)(4). The alleged harm in the IRS’s alleged behavior was that the agency didn’t give everyone equal grief for abusing that tax loophole. Should it have applied the rules equally? Yes. Do the “victims” of that discrimination have clean hands or a real justification to treat the hassles they went through as a “scandal?” Hell’s no. What the IRS “scandal” has in common with its peer competitor the Benghazi! scandal is that even if you concede most of the inquisitors’ case, there’s not much there there, which is probably why they focus less on the underlying issue and instead yap endlessly about cover-ups and conspiracies and how the administration did or didn’t react to the “scandal” once it was “exposed.”

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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