IRS Scandal Still a Scandal (But Still Not “Watergate”)

New revelations about the conduct of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials continues to trickle out. Paul Caron’s latest compilation is here. Some of these revelations are significant, but none of them contradict the account of the Inspector General’s report. Recently disclosed documents show that some BOLO (“Be on the Lookout”) documents called on IRS officials to flag groups based on the use of words like “progressive” or “Israel.” Yet these BOLO flags were largely limited “http://www.nationalreview.com/node/351718/print”>limited to groups seeking 501(c)(3) status (whereas the “Tea Party” flagging occurred with (c)(4) applications), and these BOLO documents don’t call for the same degree of scrutiny. The distinction matters because (c)(3) organizations are subject to more stringent limitations on political activity than (c)(4) groups. This would justify greater scrutiny of the former than the latter, and if the IRS was more even-handed with its review of (c)(3)s that would be a good thing. Why wasn’t this other information in the IG report? Perhaps because the IG was asked to look at the treatment of groups applying for (c)(4) status, and because the IG only conducted an audit, and not a full investigation. The scope of IG reports (like GAO reports) is often limited by the nature of the initial request.

As for whether the scandal can be attributed to the actions of a few “rogue” employees in Cincinnati, new revelations add some context and nuance, but don’t really change the bottom line here either. As Eliana Johnson has reported, the various interview transcripts with IRS officials show that some of the initial reviews were initiated in the Cincinnati office, but also show that there was a fair degree of D.C. involvement and oversight when it came to “Tea Party” groups. In sum, they don’t undermine the basic claims that Tea Party groups were targeted and that D.C. officials were involved. (And to be clear, “D.C. officials” is not code for the White House. There is no evidence of White House involvement, and I doubt any such evidence will ever emerge. This is an IRS scandal, not an Obama scandal.)

All in all, I think this Politico story does a good job of summing up the five takeaways from this story thus far:

  1. This isn’t Watergate
  2. It really did start in Cincinnati
  3. Washington made things worse
  4. Cincinnati screeners weren’t following consistent standards
  5. Focus centered on conservative, not liberal groups