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July 16, 2014 3:19 PM IRS “Scandalette”

By Ed Kilgore

Kudos to Paul Waldman for composing the most succinct description yet of the “IRS Scandal” in a column at the Prospect:

[L]et’s not forget what the IRS scandalette actually involved. There’s never been any credible allegation that anyone was audited because of their political beliefs. There’s never been any allegation that the IRS “targeted” donors to Republican super PACs. The worst thing that happened was that some Tea Party groups that had applied for 501(c)(4) status—claiming, utterly falsely, that they were charitable, non-political organizations, I might add—had to wait longer than they should have to get approval on their applications. (And, I have to repeat, when you’re waiting for your approval, you’re permitted under the law to act as though you’ve gotten your approval. You can raise and spend money, which they did.)

You might want to save that graph somewhere and bring it out to review next time Peggy Noonan does one of her columns claiming the IRS scandal is the worst thing to happen in American politics since Ronald Reagan left office.

Aside from the wonderful term “scandalette,” Waldman gets to the rotten heart of the whole mania: the fact that Republicans are playing on the near-universal taxpayer fear of IRS audits, tax liens, asset seizures and so on, when there’s no evidence any of these agency weapons were utilized with respect to the allegedly “targeted” groups. As for taxpayers’ sympathy with the “victims” of IRS “targeting,” it really needs to be understood that they were almost entirely seeking to abuse a tax code loophole supposedly exempting “social welfare” entities when they were actually trying to play in electoral politics without disclosing donors.

And why don’t they want to disclose donors? Well, obviously, because they didn’t want to expose them to IRS audits, tax liens, asset seizures and so on! You see how circular the whole argument is.

If I were a Democratic member of Congress, I’d round up support for legislation tightening safeguards on improper deployment of audits and other frightful IRS weapons for improving compliance with the tax laws. And then I’d demand evidence of what, exactly, conservatives fear, other than any interference with their fundraising schemes.

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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