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IRS Defenders Are Still Relying on Debunked Claims

One of the strangest and weakest defenses of the IRS’s campaign targeting conservative and pro-Israel nonprofit applicants was that the blatant violation of the constitutional rights of Americans who disagreed with President Obama was the natural reaction of the poor, overworked bureaucrat. We were told that conservatives “swamped” the IRS with nonprofit applications after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision struck down some restrictions on political speech.

This excuse never made much sense, and it certainly didn’t justify what happened: President Obama publicly slammed conservative nonprofits as shady and possibly foreign-funded and complained they had patriotic-sounding names to hide their nefarious purposes; he encouraged extra scrutiny of these groups; Democrats in the Senate then pushed the IRS to target the kinds of groups the president warned about; the IRS did so. Blaming conservatives for applying to participate in the nonprofit sector and thus forcing the IRS to harass and silence them is just as nonsensical as it sounds. But what about the underlying point: were those poor IRS officials flooded with conservative applicants? No, as the Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta points out:

“[W]e saw a big increase in these kind of applications, many of which indicated that they were going to be involved in advocacy work,” Lerner said.

But Todd Young, a Republican congressman from Indiana, pointed out at Friday’s House Ways and Means Committee hearing with former acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller and Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George that this was not the case, according to the very data the IRS provided to the Treasury IG’s office.

There were, he noted, actually fewer applications for tax-exempt status by groups seeking to be recognized as social-welfare organizations that year than the previous one, according to this IRS data. The real surge in applications did not come until 2012 — the year the IRS stopped the practice of treating the Tea Party class of groups differently from others.

Franke-Ruta provides the numbers, and they debunk a poor excuse that never should have been trotted out in the first place. Franke-Ruta also points out that on Wednesday, the Chronicle of Philanthropy was already on the case. Indeed they were. An article by Doug Donovan notes that not only does the narrative about a flood of 501(c)4 applicants fall apart when looking at the data, but an even larger portion of the IRS’s justification for its actions is completely undone by the numbers as well:

Mr. Miller wrote in USA Today on Monday that the IRS began to centralize those applications in 2010 because the division that supervises tax-exempt organizations observed a sharp increase in the number of applications from groups “potentially engaged in political campaign intervention” that were seeking either 501(c)(4) status or designation as a 501(c)(3) charity. He then cites the increase between 2010 and 2012.

The audit shows that 501(c)(3) applications also declined in both 2010 and 2011 from the previous years.

Now, to be fair to liberal commentators, they often unquestioningly accept the false narratives about conservatives pushed by this White House, and so they naturally heard all the fuss Obama was making about foreign-funded fake nonprofits and just assumed he wasn’t making it all up. It turns out he was making it up. But for liberals it was too good to check.

So liberals carried the corrupt IRS’s water. But at least most of those writers didn’t push that narrative explicitly as a defense of the IRS’s actions. Most of the time it was simply qualifying it, putting it in context. So it’s surprising, I suppose, to read Norm Ornstein’s take on the scandal–because he’s happy to defend the IRS.

In a piece titled, you guessed it, “In Defense of the IRS,” Ornstein writes as though he hasn’t read a newspaper or watched the news in a week. We now know, of course, that the IRS targeted conservative groups. That fact has been clearly established. But Ornstein says there’s no way the IRS targeted conservative groups because if they did they would have gone after large groups like American Crossroads. Since they didn’t go after American Crossroads, Ornstein claims, they couldn’t have been targeting conservative groups–even though documentation from the IRS demonstrates without a doubt that that is exactly what they were doing. Ornstein continues:

In the meantime, a slew of other organizations, encouraged by the example of American Crossroads, saw an opening and flooded the agency with applications, leaving staffers to find their own ways to cope– and they did so repeatedly in foolish and destructive ways.

Conservatives “flooded the agency,” so what else was a nebbish IRS bureaucrat to do besides send letters to applicants asking them what they pray about and how they feel about Planned Parenthood? Again, the excuse doesn’t hold even if the “flood” of applicants actually happened. But it appears the entire foundation of this corrupt campaign was false.

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