Showing the IRS some love after the witch hunt


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Michael Hiltzik's latest Los Angeles Times column is about the agency America loves to hate: The IRS. Hiltzik will shock-- shock!-- you by saying that the Internal Revenue Service is actually pretty good at doing what they do, and that not too long ago, the chances of getting audited were about the same for everyone, rich and not so rich.

He also discusses the political theater being staged by Darrell Issa and Co., along with their underlying motives. Please give it a read. Here are a few excerpts:

No one is talking about this record just now. Not while Washington remains wrapped up in its witch-hunting cabaret about whether rank-and-file employees in the agency's Cincinnati outpost selected — excuse me, "targeted" — conservative organizations for special scrutiny of their eligibility for preferential tax treatment simply because of their political leanings.

Thus far, there's no evidence that's what happened. Indeed, the IRS inspector general has found that groups whose names featured "tea party," patriot," or other terms favored by conservatives were a minority of the organizations selected for scrutiny. The IG also reported that most of the groups given special attention were, in fact, suspiciously political and therefore possibly ineligible for the donor anonymity that C4 (c)4 designation confers.

But the lack of evidence doesn't matter in Washington, because members of Congress are fixated full time on the opportunity to berate the IRS for the TV cameras. [...]

What's the underlying motive today? Most likely to hobble the agency's scrutiny of political organizations claiming legal advantages as "social welfare" groups under section 501(c)4 of the tax code, which allows them to keep their donors secret.

Just what we need, more leeway for Karl Rove-- and to be fair, Democratic groups. Political organizations are not social welfare groups. Period.

Remember, the real IRS scandal is about 501(c)4s. As Lawrence O'Donnell astutely pointed out awhile back (and Michael Hiltzik does again in his column), the real issue is how “social welfare” groups are allowed tax-exempt status while participating in politics. As O’Donnell noted, it’s all about the word “primarily.”

To repeat, via MSNBC:

[A]ccording to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, the real scandal happened long ago.

Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code defines tax-exempt social welfare groups like this:

Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.

In 1959, under the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, the meaning of this section was changed dramatically when the IRS decided the word “exclusively” could, in effect, be read as “primarily.”

Hiltzik ends with a slam at Congress'-- and Issa's-- unwillingness to accept responsibility for determining (c)4 eligibility instead of depending on "politically fraught decisions be made by civil servants who can then be hauled to the gibbet and hanged for their 'incompetence'."

He goes on to say that governing is hard work, but finger-pointing and scandals are so much easier for Congress members, the representatives whose salaries we pay.

Here's an idea: Let's give them a pay cut and fire the worst offenders. I'd have suggested a furlough, but they did that to themselves already with their ridiculously frequent recesses.