"It's a nothingburger". That's how Chris Matthews described the Right's effort to find a scandal in the IRS where there isn't one. I agree. Indeed, when the dust settles, this matter will be more of a problem for the Right than the Left.
Let's look at the essentials.
The Law. Since 1913, organizations that "engage exclusively in social welfare activities" are exempt from Federal Income Tax under the Internal Revenue Code.
The Regulations. In the 1950s, the IRS adopted a regulation that effectively changed the law to allow a tax exemption for organizations engaged "primarily" in social welfare activities.
If you find that weird, you're right. The IRS, like all other government agencies, has no power (like zip, nada, bupkes) to change the clear requirements of a law passed by Congress.
Principled Republicans who believe in Constitutional government should be outraged by this usurpation of power by unelected bureaucrats at the IRS, of all places. The fact that they aren't is evidence that the Party's agenda is being driven by slick opportunists looking for any chance to tarnish Obama.
Targeting. The charge by the Right is that the IRS targeted groups with right-wing sounding names and went easy on groups with left-wing sounding names. That's exactly what they should have been doing. Seriously.
Let's go back to the law. We're talking about "social welfare activities". How do we define "social welfare activities"? Webster defines them as "organized public or private social services for assistance of disadvantaged groups".
These are the very activities that have defined the Democratic Party since FDR … Social Security, Medicare, Head Start, Food Stamps, Homeless Programs … everything that the Right ridicules nightly on Fox and seeks to cut or eliminate during the day in the Republican controlled funny farm also known as the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, the very name TEA Party speaks to what they are about …Taxed Enough Already. They exist to preserve favorable tax treatment for the top income earners, while questioning whether President Obama is either a Christian or legally entitled to be President. Perfectly permissible exercises of free speech rights but hardly "social welfare activities" entitled to exemption under our tax laws.
End Game. The clueless Right … Peggy Noonan of Murdoch's Wall Street Journal … wants a Special Prosecutor. That's the best thing that could happen to Left.
A Special Prosecutor would look at the law and recognize that none of the TEA Party groups should have been exempted for the simple reason that they could not meet the threshold criteria of "exclusively engaging in social welfare activities".
The brighter lights in the opportunistic Right recognize that they've ridden this horse about as far as they can. They might risk another hearing to rough up some hapless bureaucrats, but they'd wouldn't mind having the issue sort of fade into the mist.
Obama has been unfairly tarnished. They can resurrect the issue as a talking point in the 2014 campaign.
Lessons Learned. The Left has been pitifully inept at making their best case on this matter. With the exception of Laurence O'Donnell of MSNBC, few people on either side wanted to talk about what the law actually requires. I can understand the Right keeping the language of the law an unmentionable … their case for "IRS Scandal" depends on nobody reading the law. Or remembering Mitt Romney's views on the disadvantaged expressed in his most memorable speech … The 47% Address.
The Left should have been shouting the language of the law at the top of its lungs and pointing to their record of advocacy in support of "social welfare activities" and pointing to the Ryan budget and Romney's address as evidence of the Right's disdain for such activities.
This is a special post. I will post again on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 (or before, if the news flow dictates) and, for the time being, I will post on the first Wednesday of each month.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.