A long time ago — last week, basically — if you were a political person, it was definitely a bad thing to get in a fight with the IRS. But the scandal over the IRS targeting Tea Party groups has had an interesting side-effect in the last seven days: turning on the IRS can now win you major political points. Texas Rep. Bill Flores tells The National Review that the IRS is asking him for more information about his tax returns. At one time, this would be an embarrassing admission. But Flores (pictured above) claims he's being targeted by the IRS because he made inquiries on behalf of the Waco Tea Party, which was having trouble with its application to be a tax-exempt 501(c)(4). Even though his accountant turned the documents in on time, Flores says, "They still haven't cleared my name."
The details of Flores' case don't quite fit the scandal. IRS agents in the Cincinnati field office were going after new conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, not individual conservatives filing personal tax returns. But Flores is not the only guy who sees some benefit in revealing IRS trouble, even if it doesn't perfectly fit with the scandal. Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as well as Samaritan's Purse, wrote a letter to President Obama saying the IRS said in September it would "review" the non-profit's activities from the year 2010, Politico's Reid J. Epstein reports. "I believe that someone in the administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us," Graham says. "This is morally wrong and unethical — indeed some would call it 'un-American.'" He says the IRS visited the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's North Carolina offices because it told voters to vote for "candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel." 501(c)(4)s are not allowed to endorse candidates explicitly, and their primary function must be social welfare.
Z Street president Lori Lowenthal Marcus told Fox News that her Jewish group was being targeted inappropriately. "After we filed our lawsuit, the IRS began having several different positions on why it was taking so long, one of which was because terrorism happens in Israel," she said. Therefore, they had to look into our organization, because they thought we might be funding terrorism... We didn’t fund anybody; we barely funded ourselves!" Lowenthal Marcus complained Z Street had not been approved for 501(c)(3) status despite applying in 2009. (The IRS investigation says the targeting started in 2010.)
But right now, the details don't really matter. Though Obama has fired acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller and replaced him with a familiar name, and the head of the IRS's tax exempt and government entities division quit on Thursday, the scandal promises to drag on. Maybe by the end anyone who gets indicted for tax fraud can claim to be a persecuted politician of the people.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.