Commentary Magazine


Topic: People for the American Way

The IRS’s Political Bias Goes Hollywood

Last week we learned that the FBI has no plans to prosecute anyone for their participation in the IRS’s unlawful discrimination against conservative and Tea Party groups. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the FBI’s failure to interview any of the victims of the tax agency’s political bias casts doubt on the investigation. Like the congressional hearings of the scandal last spring, accountability for this outrageous conduct has been stymied by partisan wrangling and a refusal on the part of the administration or much of the mainstream press to treat the issue with the seriousness that such dangerous abuse of the powerful IRS deserves. But the assumption even on the part of many of the IRS’s frustrated critics was that the illegal behavior had been stopped and the miscreants replaced, as the agency’s new leaders told Congress, with a return to scrupulous neutrality. But, as a front-page story in today’s New York Times informs us, that assumption appears to be mistaken.

That isn’t the lede of the piece about a group called Friends of Abe, a group of approximately 1,500 conservative-leaning members of the entertainment industry. The organization promotes gatherings of like-minded right-wingers in Hollywood and seeks the same non-profit 501(c)(3) status that was granted Norman Lear’s People for the American Way, a liberal group with a considerably higher profile. But, like the Tea Party groups featured in last year’s IRS scandal, the Friends of Abe have been waiting for more than two years to receive a ruling on their request. In the meantime, the IRS has subjected them to highly irregular demands for their membership list and advanced access to their website.

The demand for that information—and the group’s principled refusal to comply—highlights the perilous professional risks for Hollywood conservatives who acknowledge their political leanings before achieving fame. That’s why only a few members of Friends of Abe, such as actors Gary Sinise, Jon Voight, and Kelsey Grammer and writer/director Lionel Chetwynd, have identified themselves. But the real issue here is why the IRS has been stalling a tiny conservative group because of questions about the speakers they invite to their off-the-record dinners and meetings while a bevy of left-wing Hollywood groups whose involvement in political issues is a matter of record have not encountered such IRS challenges.

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Last week we learned that the FBI has no plans to prosecute anyone for their participation in the IRS’s unlawful discrimination against conservative and Tea Party groups. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the FBI’s failure to interview any of the victims of the tax agency’s political bias casts doubt on the investigation. Like the congressional hearings of the scandal last spring, accountability for this outrageous conduct has been stymied by partisan wrangling and a refusal on the part of the administration or much of the mainstream press to treat the issue with the seriousness that such dangerous abuse of the powerful IRS deserves. But the assumption even on the part of many of the IRS’s frustrated critics was that the illegal behavior had been stopped and the miscreants replaced, as the agency’s new leaders told Congress, with a return to scrupulous neutrality. But, as a front-page story in today’s New York Times informs us, that assumption appears to be mistaken.

That isn’t the lede of the piece about a group called Friends of Abe, a group of approximately 1,500 conservative-leaning members of the entertainment industry. The organization promotes gatherings of like-minded right-wingers in Hollywood and seeks the same non-profit 501(c)(3) status that was granted Norman Lear’s People for the American Way, a liberal group with a considerably higher profile. But, like the Tea Party groups featured in last year’s IRS scandal, the Friends of Abe have been waiting for more than two years to receive a ruling on their request. In the meantime, the IRS has subjected them to highly irregular demands for their membership list and advanced access to their website.

The demand for that information—and the group’s principled refusal to comply—highlights the perilous professional risks for Hollywood conservatives who acknowledge their political leanings before achieving fame. That’s why only a few members of Friends of Abe, such as actors Gary Sinise, Jon Voight, and Kelsey Grammer and writer/director Lionel Chetwynd, have identified themselves. But the real issue here is why the IRS has been stalling a tiny conservative group because of questions about the speakers they invite to their off-the-record dinners and meetings while a bevy of left-wing Hollywood groups whose involvement in political issues is a matter of record have not encountered such IRS challenges.

As the Times notes, there is no shortage of Hollywood-based liberal non-profits that spend heavily to promote their political point of view on a host of issues that interest the elites of the entertainment industry. The difference between those groups and the Friends of Abe is stark in terms of their ability to mobilize actors and others who work in film and TV as well as in the willingness of their backers to be open about their political affiliation. Where Lear’s group and others founded by the likes of Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio spend heavily, and bathe happily in the glow of publicity that promotes their causes as well as it enhances the careers of their members, the Friends of Abe seems to operate more like a support group for wary members of a discriminated minority. Not only is their membership list a closely held secret, but no photographs are permitted at their meetings and dinners to protect the identities of those in attendance lest they be outed as conservatives and consequently subjected to the informal but undeniable blacklisting that anyone so designated is forced to suffer in Hollywood.

A recent example of just how dangerous it is for even an established figure to contradict liberal orthodoxy came when actress Maria Conchita Alonso was forced to leave a production of a San Francisco production of The Vagina Monologues because of the anger generated by her decision to tape an ad in support of a Tea Party candidate for governor of California.

But the issue here isn’t so much the facts of political life in the entertainment industry as it is the two-year delay and the extraordinary level of scrutiny the IRS has directed at the Friends of Abe. If, as one former IRS official interviewed by the Times said, the group is only inviting conservatives and Republicans to its meetings, that is automatically treated as a red flag to agency investigators. But does anyone think for a moment that the groups fronted by Lear, Damon, or DiCaprio are evenhanded in their dinner invitations or their approach to politics and the issues they promote?

Even a cursory look at this controversy would make it clear that the IRS is stalling and obstructing the efforts of a conservative-leaning non-profit while never subjecting the far-more-blatant partisan activities of a group like People for the American Way to the same microscopic examination. While we were told that new rules and stricter supervision of the supposedly “rogue” IRS agents in the Cincinnati IRS office would solve the agency’s problems, the subsequent treatment of the Friends of Abe shows that far from being the modus operandi of one rogue field office, the problem is systemic. What is needed is not a closer look at the activities of isolated right-wingers but far greater scrutiny of the outrageous conduct and political bias of the Obama Internal Revenue Service.

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