Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Toobin attempts to excuse the IRS, looks uninformed

Noted legalist and supposed intellectual heavyweight Jeffrey Toobin has a new column out on the current IRS scandal; you know, the one where the IRS made it a matter of policy to apply additional scrutiny to conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status. Toobin argues that maybe the IRS really didn't do anything wrong, that it was justified in zeroing in on certain groups--based on their name or objectives (which where conservative/libertarian in orientation)--because of the kind of exemptions they were looking for:
Some people in the I.R.S. field office in Cincinnati took the names of certain groups—names that included the terms “Tea Party” and “patriot,” among others, which tend to signal conservatism—as signals that they might not be engaged in “social welfare” operations. Rather, the I.R.S. employees thought that these groups might be doing explicit politics—which would disqualify them for 501(c)(4) status, and set them aside for closer examination. This appears to have been a pretty reasonable assumption on the part of the I.R.S. employees: having “Tea Party” in your name is at least a slight clue about partisanship.
Toobin goes into some detail about the nature of 501(c)(4) status as well, noting that one of the advantages of this status is not having to disclose donors. And thus, Toobin demonstrates he really doesn't know what he's talking about, since part of this scandal includes demands from the IRS of the names of donors, among other things, to the groups being scrutinized:
Here are some of the weirdest and most notable questions and requests that ABC found in roughly half a dozen IRS questionnaires sent to tea party groups from 2010 to 2012: 
  • “Provide a list of all issues that are important to your organization. Indicate your position regarding each issue.” 
  • “Please explain in detail the derivation of your organization’s name.” (in a letter to the Ohio-based 1851 Center for Constitutional Law) 
  • “Please explain in detail your organization’s involvement with the Tea Party.” 
  • “Provide details regarding your relationship with Justin Binik-Thomas.” (a Cincinnati-area Tea-Party activist) 
  • “Provide information regarding the Butler County Teen Age Republicans and your relationship.” 
  • “Submit the following information relating to your past and present directors, officers, and key employees: a) Provide a resume for each.” 
  • “The names of the donors, contributors, and grantors. … The amounts of each of the donations, contributions, and grants and the dates you received them.”
Now that's just a partial list of the questions. And none of them are appropriate. The IRS has already admitted as much. So what is Toobin talking about?

The obviously rejoinder to his arguments--beyond the demonstration above--is "what about lefty orgs applying for the same status?" Toobin smugly believes he has this covered:
It is certainly true that the I.R.S., and every other part of the government, should be evenhanded in how it applies the law, regarding liberal and conservative groups alike. If left-leaning organizations were disguising their true purposes to obtain 501(c)(4) status, the I.R.S. should have turned them down, too.
The "if" is hilarious. As an example of a right-leaning organization supposedly playing this game, Toobin identifies Americans for Prosperity, basically concluding it's 501(c)(4) status is unjustified:
For example, Americans for Prosperity, which was funded in part by the Koch Brothers, was an instrumental force in helping the Republicans hold the House of Representatives. In every meaningful sense, groups like Americans for Prosperity were operating as units of the Republican Party. Democrats organized similar operations, but on a much smaller scale.
Obviously, Toobin was mostly interested in working the words "Koch Brothers" into his piece, but in so doing he once again looks supremely foolish if not ignorant with the last line above. For the Democratic Leadership Council--the DLC--was a 501(c)(4) organization until it was dissolved in 2011. If there was ever an example of an organization using this tax-exempt status to play the games Toobin seems worried about, that was it. Granted, its influence was waning before it was dissolved, but never fear, for a new left-leaning 501(c)(4) organization has risen to fill the void: Organizing for Action, which I have discussed in detail previously.

What has Toobin said about Organizing for Action? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

But again, the point is that the IRS was targeting groups on the right specifically, not just because the potential of abuse could be identified by words like "tea party." For there are similar words that indicate the same thing, but from the left side of the spectrum: "occupy" (the "occupy" movements, the left's answer to the tea party), "progress," "progressive," and so on. Groups with such names--doing the same things as the groups on the right under scrutiny--had their statuses more or less rubber-stamped:
As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with obviously liberal names were approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like "Progress" or "Progressive," these groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.
Toobin is looking to be provocative, but he just looks uninformed. There is a scandal here. The IRS behaved badly, no reasonable person thinks differently. It still remains to be seen if there are links to this going up the food chain.

Cheers, all.

No comments:

Post a Comment