It has been reported (and I have no reason to doubt the reports) that, sometime in 2011, certain Cincinnati IRS personnel inappropriately (and for possibly partisan reasons) "flagged" and investigated certain groups that used names like "tea party" or "patriot" on their applications for 501(c)4 tax-exempt designation.
Is this kind of "profiling" wrong? Certainly! Should such activities be condemned by Americans of all political persuasions? Of course! Should these government officials be fully investigated and (if found guilty) be fired or even prosecuted? You bet'cha!
But we might also ask if some far-right politicos and pundits - i.e. House "Witch-finder General" Darrell Issa, or certain hyperactive local letter writers - might (as is their habit) be overreaching and displaying their own unique brand of partisanship by describing the IRSNAFU as "worse than Watergate"?
Once again, these zealots are showing us their serial hypocrisy, their total amnesia about events in American history before January, 2009, and their innate mistrust of the intelligence of the American public. Where were these "righteous" folks when Nixon created his "enemies lists" in the 1970s, and J. Edgar Hoover used the IRS to audit groups like the NAACP? Where were they when the Bush/Cheney gang used the "Patriot Act" to "profile" minorities and investigate anti-war groups? Where were they when Cheney used "Scooter" Libby to "out" CIA agent Valerie Plaime in order to punish her husband, Joe Wilson, for disputing their war-promoting propaganda? Where is their "outrage" today as Republican legislators in states like Virginia "target" the parents of out-of-state college students, charging them higher tuition-fees if their children vote in local elections?
The overreachers might want to tread softly, because (if any future IRS investigation is conducted by a truly bi-partisan independent prosecutor) this "scandal" might "backfire" on them and reveal some interesting facts about some of the alleged "victims" of the Cincinnati IRS probe. Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code was originally enacted by Congress to enable certain charitable, educational, or "public-service" organizations (i.e. The Red Cross, The American Cancer Society, The Boy Scouts) to obtain tax-exemptions by virtue of their non-profit status. Before 1959, the code stated that the activities of these groups should be "exclusively" non-political. In 1959 (for some unknown reason and without consent of Congress) IRS officials changed the law's wording to read "primarily" non-political. Since then, the tax laws have remained unclear about exactly how much "political" activity these groups can engage in. The 2009 SCOTUS "Citizens United" ruling muddied the waters even further by allowing these groups to hide the sources of their funding. In 2010, many "tea-party" groups sought to obtain a 501(c)4 status by claiming to be "educational organizations," designed to "promote" American history or civics. In reality, the activities of these groups and their sponsors have been almost "exclusively" political - i.e. the "9-12 Project" (founded by wingnut pundit Glenn Beck) or "Freedom Works" (a PAC funded by corporate-lobbyist Dick Armey). Their activities include buying ads supporting extreme-rightwing issues and candidates. In other words, these groups - and their leftwing counterparts - have been flying "false colors" to dodge the taxes they would have to pay if they were designated (as are the "political-action committees" of most labor-unions) as "political" groups. It's ironic that last weekend's Times contained an article about how a local food pantry has to "struggle" to obtain a 501(c) "non-profit" designation - while the local "9-12 Project" group promoting the agenda of huckster Glenn Beck gets their 501(c)4 tax break with little or no hassle from the IRS (none of the alleged "conservative" groups investigated by the Cincinnati IRS was refused an 501c)4 designation).
The law mandates that the IRS investigate any suspicion that a group or individual might be using artful devices to dodge taxes (that's how they nailed Al Capone in the '30s). Where the IRS officials in Cincinnati went wrong is when they "cherrypicked" certain groups to investigate, while ignoring others. Again this is wrong! But so is a blatantly political group masquerading as a "social-welfare" or "educational" organization!
Even short-term-memory Obama-haters should realize by now that stupidity and malfeasance are bi-partisan activities. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!"