If you needed proof that the current IRS "scandal" is far less scandalous than the American people have been led to believe—besides the proof that already exists, of course—the New York Times has it for you today.
Two weeks ago, Danny Werfel, the new head of the IRS, said in a review of the tax body that inappropriate targeting of groups seeking tax-exempt status wasn't reserved only for Tea Party clubs and other right-wing entities, as some GOP lawmakers had claimed. Today, the Times reports that the vast majority of groups flagged for extra scrutiny by the IRS' tax exemption office weren't even politically involved one way or the other.
According to the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, the I.R.S. received 199,689 applications for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012. In 2012 alone, the agency received 73,319, of which about 22,000 were not approved in the initial review process. The inspector general looked at 296 applications flagged as potentially being from political groups. That means most of the applications pulled aside for further scrutiny in those years had nothing to do with politics, conservative or liberal, just as most of the red flags thrown up by the I.R.S.’s lookout lists were not overtly political.
According to the Times, one of the tax-exemption applicants hampered by IRS targeting was a "mainly African-American nurses' society," which is still waiting for an IRS response two years after filing its initial paperwork. Another was a Palestinian-rights group, and still others were open-source software developers, which the IRS feared were commercial companies attempting to skirt tax laws.
Despite the fact that this enhanced targeting clearly went beyond simply "Tea Party groups," that hasn't prevented some on the right-wing of saying as much to anyone who will listen. One particularly blustery critic is Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the House oversight committee, who said back in May, "This was a targeting of the president’s political enemies, effectively, and lies about it during the election year so that it wasn’t discovered until afterwards."
In light of the latest evidence, some of Issa's colleagues have begun singing a different tune. Virginia Congressman Gerald Connolly, a Democrat and a member of the House committee that got the ball rolling on the IRS inquiry, now calls the IRS dustup a "gross distortion of reality." "We replaced the leadership of the I.R.S. over this," he told the Times. "We have subpoenas out. We are deposing employees. And we have damaged the president."
Congressman Charles Boustany Jr., a Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, was forced to admit, "We haven't found political motivation." Republican Senator Roy Blunt echoed that sentiment, saying that maybe Issa and others had been wrong when they made the very serious charge that President Obama abused his power and forced the IRS to attack his political enemies: "I don’t have any reason to believe there wasn’t targeting of conservatives, but it might well have been a lot more than that as well."
Wrong or not, the best part of all this scandal-mongering for Republicans is that the veracity of their allegations doesn't matter in the end. The IRS paranoia has become whirled into the American public's political sniping, and some people will now accept it as truth forever, just as some of them still believe President Obama is a Muslim. In that way, Issa's plan has been a great success.
[Image via AP]