People on the right and left are appalled by the IRS's inappropriate targeting of Tea Party non-profits. The IRS "demanded names of board members, copies of meeting minutes and résumés, details of community organizing efforts," The Washington Post's Josh Hicks and Kimberly Kindy report, not to mention asked some groups for donors and membership lists — which is against IRS rules. Conservatives, in particular, are calling for harsh consequences — Michele Bachmann floated impeachment of President Obama on Thursday, though she wasn't fully ready to commit. "We can't reach to conclusion," she said at a press conference this morning. "Remarkable arrogance" was House Speaker John Boehner's line. RedState editor Erick Erickson demanded of his fellow conservatives that "instead of fixating, we take advantage of it — elected officials, activists, and donors alike — we can use what the Obama administration did via the IRS to our advantage." But it's worth noting that not so long ago, Erickson was insisting that some of these Tea Party groups get some extra scrutiny.
As Politico reported earlier this week, the IRS scandal threatens campaign finance reform, specifically to stop what are essentially campaign groups from getting tax-exempt status. To get tax-exempt status, a 501(c)(4) has to be primarily a social welfare organization. But groups like the liberal Priorities USA and the conservative Crossroads GPS are social welfare organizations only in the sense that they were fighting for the welfare of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively. None other than our friend Erick Erickson railed against the groups who shamelessly exploited campaign finance law. In fact, it seemed Tea Party groups were the worst. Erickson wrote just five weeks ago:
My mother constantly gets mail at her house begging her for money to fight the good fight. More often than not, the groups begging her for help have “Tea Party” in their name and they are all scams.
He even alleged clear violation of elections law:
Give money to a conservative candidate and you too will see your mailbox explode. “But we cannot pull from FEC filings,” they claim. That may be the law, but when has that stopped them? Try this — give a handful of conservative candidates enough money to get printed in their FEC disclosures. “Mistype” your name. Watch as you suddenly see an avalanche of direct mail, all with your name mistyped.
And it was clear from Erickson's complaints that their primary focus was campaigning, however inefficiently, and not social welfare:
Like drug addicts wanting one more hit before going straight, they send out one last mail piece demanding money to help Allen West...
Never you mind that Allen West will never see one penny of the money. “We’re building his name identification,” the mailhouse tells you. Yes, in the days of Rush Limbaugh’s 20 million listener audience, Fox News’s domination of the news airwaves, and Allen West’s own efforts, I’m sure he needs some crappy little group no one has ever heard of using his name so that they themselves get money.
The IRS was trying to screen out groups that were seeking non-profit status to illegally finance campaign activity, which is good, but they were using a politicized method — screening for groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in the name, as well as those whose core issues were Tea Partyish themes like cutting spending — which is very bad. "It was pretty much a proctology exam through your earlobe," Karen L. Kenney of the San Fernando Valley Patriots told The Washington Post. It's not that conservative groups should have gotten a less vigorous exam (aside from possibly illegal questions about donors), it's that liberal groups should have gotten it, too.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.