Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Scandal that Wasn’t

I have a feeling – a feeling, mind you – that the current IRS/Tea Party scandal is going to turn out to be a mighty flapping of buttock cheeks as air escapes through them.
by Charlie Leck

As it often does, the New York Times put some of its best reporters on a big story! The newspaper wanted a careful look at the current talk of scandal inside the IRS having to do with various Tea Party groups’ applications for non-profit (charity) status. A story in this morning’s NY Times is well worth your attention. It may make you shake your head. Further, you may sit back and ask “what scandal?” It made me ask: Why were people fired over this?

Nicholas Confessore, David Kocieniewski and Michael Luo were the writers on the story. It was first filed yesterday [18 May 2013] but appears in a more complete fashion in this morning’s paper.

A statement, quoting Phillip Hackney, a former IRS Tax Lawyer who now teaches law at Louisiana State University (LSU), kind of sums up the entire and very long article…

“We’re talking about an office (Cincinnati) overwhelmed by 60,000 paper applications trying to find efficient means of dealing with that.”

Applications to the IRS for non-profit status went through the Cincinnati office. Following what I have often called here “the utterly stupid ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court” on political contributions by corporations and political fund raisers (Citizens United), the stream of applications to the IRS increased to an enormous level. The specialists in Cincinnati who looked at these applications were not exactly highly trained and not at all fully qualified to make decisions about these matters without technical advice from Washington.

In this you have the beginning of a non-scandal scandal. Poor schmucks in Cincinnati were trying to do their work at a terrific pace. They wanted to make sure everything was on the up-and-up and they worked hard to do it. Did they make mistakes? Probably? Were they working for the White House in an attempt to stop conservative groups from organizing to raise money to elect Mitt Romney to the White House? I don’t thiiiiink so!

The resulting clap was so seriously loud and forceful that it gently and momentarily lifted the entire roof off the church.

Cancel the call for Woodward and Bernstein! What we have here is not a scandal but just one more example of government inefficiency.

Believe me, the majority of Republicans are not going to let it go so easily. We’ll need to spend millions upon millions on an investigation and in committee hearings designed to provide a stage for congressional representatives who will be running for office in 2014.

I suggest you just crank up the old computer this morning and get on over to this New York Times article and find out for yourself what went wrong in Cincinnati.

Here are some highlights from the article…
Overseen by a revolving cast of midlevel managers, stalled by miscommunication with I.R.S. lawyers and executives in Washington and confused about the rules they were enforcing, the Cincinnati specialists flagged virtually every application with Tea Party in its name. But their review went beyond conservative groups: more than 400 organizations came under scrutiny, including at least two dozen liberal-leaning ones and some that were seemingly apolitical...
“…I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection,” Mr. [Steven) Miller [former IRS Commissioner] testified before a House committee Friday. While “intolerable,” he said, it “was not an act of partisanship...”
“..But the Exempt Organizations Division — concentrated in Cincinnati with fewer than 200 workers, according to I.R.S. officials — is staffed mostly with accountants, clerks and civil servants. Working for one of only three I.R.S. divisions not charged with collecting tax revenue, specialists in the Determinations Unit in Cincinnati primarily review and process roughly 70,000 applications for exemptions each year, relatively few from groups engaged in election activity…”
“…It is not unusual for I.R.S. specialists to search for patterns in applications, in part for clues toward fraud and scams — a single tax preparer employing the same tax gambit for multiple clients, for example — and in part to ensure that similar groups are treated in a consistent way, the former officials said…”
“…Some former agency officials and outside advocates said they worried about the chilling effect the controversy could have on legitimate enforcement. Even as the agency was scrutinizing small nonprofit organizations, critics say, it appears to have done little to crack down on large 501(c)4 groups that spent at least half a billion dollars on political advertising during the last four years, some in seeming defiance of the I.R.S. rules. Efforts by the agency to clarify those tax rules — a potential first step toward curbing abuses — began last summer but are still in the early stages…
These excerpts should not be regarded as the summation of a very serious, complex, unbiased and lengthy article.

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