When the Internal Revenue Service inspector general issued a report last May saying the IRS was targeting conservative groups, politicians lined up to condemn such behavior.
“Targeting groups by their name or their ideology is absolutely unacceptable,” Oregon’s Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, said. “We need criteria with clear, bright lines laying out what groups with tax-exempt status are allowed to do and not do, regardless of the groups’ political views, so that decision isn’t left with IRS bureaucrats.”
It was just the kind of reaction needed to a clear and simple abuse of power. If we can’t trust our most powerful politicians on issues like this, who can we trust?
Last week, we got some bad news.
Congress had a chance to make a statement about stopping IRS employees from intentionally targeting individuals or groups based on political views.
Two things could have happened.
One was good. U.S. senators could have joined together to draw those clear, bright lines for the IRS.
One was bad. The amendment could have failed.
The bad thing happened. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee blocked the amendment.
Maybe we should have known we would be disappointed.
We looked back. Two of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Sens. Al Franken, of Minnesota, and Charles Schumer, of New York, were in that same group of Democrats along with Merkley who wrote to put pressure on the IRS to crack down on political groups.
In 2012, a total of six Democratic senators wrote IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to ensure groups applying for tax-exempt status as 501(c)(4) organizations were truly “social welfare” organizations and not political fronts.
In an email to supporters, Merkley went slightly further. He also asked supporters to urge the IRS to crack down and specifically mentioned conservatives, such as Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.
The actions of the Democratic senators did not make them directly complicit in what the IRS did. But in 2012 and again this year, Democrats are effectively saying to IRS employees: “Go get them.”