On the Cincinnati IRS

Jared Bernstein’s take on this very good NYT story seems right:

There’s a long cover story on the Cincinnati IRS office which is ground zero for the recent scandal. The piece paints a picture of an understaffed, poorly managed group of mid-level bureaucrats, trying to follow impossible guidelines. Clearly, the agency screwed up in a big way that threatens to deepen our already dysfunctional politics. That said, partisan bias on behalf of the agents is not obvious.

What would help clear up this part of the issue is a number I’ve yet to see showing that (c)(4) groups with conservative names were disproportionately targeted. It’s clear, for example, that more “Tea Party” and similarly named applications were given extra scrutiny than liberal ones (like those with “Progress” in their title) but it also seems that there were a lot more of the former. The question of proportionality has yet to be answered.

Although all of this leaves out the fact that Barack Obama clearly took some time out from his busy schedule of arranging the murder of Christopher Stevens to cover up a failed Arkansas land deal to personally direct the actions of the Cincinnati field office.

51 comments on this post.
  1. Mean Mister Mustard:

    I think a lot of it was due to this…….

    In Ohio on Tuesday, leaders of Washington-based FreedomWorks teamed up with local tea party leaders for a press conference supporting a Senate bill that would, like the legislation at the heart of the Wisconsin protests, drastically curtail the collective-bargaining rights of public employees. Meanwhile, in Tallahassee on the opening day of Florida’s legislative session, activists took to the streets surrounding the state capitol in defense of Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal.

    http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/tea-party-activists-take-on-public-employee-unions-in-florida-ohio-20110308

  2. Hogan:

    This would be plausible if IRS employees worked for the state of Ohio.

  3. c u n d gulag:

    Reichwing Talk Radio POV:
    Scott,
    Get it right.
    Christopher Stevens was just the latest lover that that lesbian, Hillary Clinton, arranged to have killed.

    Unless…

    ZOMG!
    Christopher Stevens was Obama’s gay lover, and Obama set him up!!!

    ZOMG!!! THAT EXPLAINS EVERYTHING!!!

  4. Mean Mister Mustard:

    They have a Union.

  5. Mean Mister Mustard:

    http://www.nteu.org/

  6. Hogan:

    Organized under federal law, which won’t be affected by Ohio legislation. Unless you’re thinking this is an act of sollidaristic bureaucratic sabotage, which would be plausible if the Treasury Department union were the IWW, it had happened anywhere other than one office, and they had gone after any of the really important and influential Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks.

  7. Mean Mister Mustard:

    You think they don’t have any solidarity with other unions?

    Cuz, they can see the handwriting on the wall, can’t they.

  8. Mudge:

    I avoid the Times pay wall, but the aspect that continues to annoy me is the dearth of comment that all of these applications were voluntary. I don’t know if the Times emphasized that or not. An organization self-determines that it is a 501c(4), then files a form 990 after the tax year ends. They do not need IRS approval. I have seen it mentioned that the Tea Party 501c(4) organizations were paranoid about future IRS audits, so they applied to be sure they were properly contructed (yeah, sure). The IRS apparently asked some inappropriate questions, but any focus on the Tea Party for these voluntary applications could be viewed as positive; giving those organizations an early evaluation. The Cincinnati office could do just fine having zero 501c(4) applications a year. I suspect any number of them would be an annoyting addition to their work load.

  9. Timb:

    That’s not an answer. It’s a link to a website.

  10. Hogan:

    To the point of risking their jobs to carry out ultimately useless minor harassment of small fry? I don’t know of anything in their history to support that.

    Look, it’s pretty to think so, but when have federal employee unions ever gone to the mat for AFSCME or IAFF? I’ve been in a union too long to have much romanticism about them.

  11. Hogan:

    Do you need IRS confirmation of your status if you want to file articles of incorporation?

  12. Mean Mister Mustard:

    “To the point of risking their jobs to carry out ultimately useless minor harassment of small fry?”

    Civil servants have a lot of protection under Fed law. Anyway, you are responding like I’ve just published a Unibomber manifesto. No one knows, at this point, whether it was the confusing aspects of CU and the resulting discord, or a mission.

  13. James E. Powell:

    What would help clear up this part of the issue is a number I’ve yet to see showing that (c)(4) groups with conservative names were disproportionately targeted.

    I would also like to see some evidence that any groups were harmed or threatened with harm. If there were any groups harmed, what was the harm?

  14. James E. Powell:

    No.

  15. Hogan:

    I’m saying I found your account highly implausible. I assure you my response to the Unabomber manifesto went a bit beyond that.

  16. Another Anonymous:

    Yah, I looked for that in the NYT story. Not mentioned. Dumbfucks.

  17. c u n d gulag:

    From what I can tell, only a delay in getting their tax exempt status.
    And the one group that was denied that status, at least as far as I know now, was a Liberal one.

  18. Mudge:

    They had tax exempt status the instant they decided they had it. See above. A 501c(3) requires approval. A 501c(4) does not. LGM could decide to be a 501c(4) today and instantly be tax exempt. Whether they pass an audit of their 990 is another question.

  19. Anonymous:

    The article’s focus was the institutional problems at this IRS office. Some appalling details about the lack of guidance and guidelines, but pretty lacking on facts & figures about the nitty-gritty workload stuff.
    For example:

    “We’re talking about an office overwhelmed by 60,000 paper applications trying to find efficient means of dealing with that,” said Mr. Hackney, who is now a law professor at Louisiana State University. “There were times where they came up with shortcuts that were efficient but didn’t take into consideration the public perception.”

    Unclear whether those 60,000 applications are advance applications for 501c4 status, applications for all the kinds of 501 exempt status, the 990s you mention, or what.
    From the chart Garance Franke-Ruta has here, it looks more like the figure for 501c3 applications in a single year.

  20. laura:

    I really don’t see the national scandal here at all other than that the IRS is horribly underfunded. Even as a regional scandal this seems like pretty weak tea (no pun intended… well maybe), but the national implications seem totally nonexistent. Over at the Corner they are reduced to bellyaching about how this proves government is inherently evil and we should never subject ourselves to its whims. Which makes no practical sense unless you want a country in which everybody can just declare themselves tax-exempt at will with no risk of audited.

  21. Mudge:

    I have applied for 501c(3) before (years back) and they were all handled in the main office in DC. I wonder when and why the evaluations were moved to Cincinnati

  22. liberal:

    IMHO right-wingers see this as a two-fer. (1) Ginning up scandals against Obama, (2) attacking the IRS in their mission to see that rich people pay no taxes.

  23. James B. Shearer:

    … but any focus on the Tea Party for these voluntary applications could be viewed as positive; giving those organizations an early evaluation. …

    This is absurd, the applications signaled out were held for further investigation rather than being improved immediately. Once held out the applications ended up in limbo indefinitely because the office had no idea how to follow up.

  24. c u n d gulag:

    Ok, thanks for the clarification.
    Got it.

    Uhm…
    Is this any way to run a government?
    I mean, if you, like, cared about things like, oh, I don’t know…. say… governance?

  25. Hogan:

    Back in my local union treasurer days, I went to the local IR field office to answer some questions about our 990. I waited a not unreasonable amount of time and then talked to a representative. I answered all her questions, and everything was cool. Then we had to wait another half hour, because she shared a computer with three other reps and it wasn’t her turn yet. (This was in the late ’90s.) I told her I vote Democratic and didn’t blame her at all.

  26. Hogan:

    IRS, I mean. International relations doesn’t have a field office here, although I’m sure Farley is working on it.

  27. timb:

    I asked the same question of Adler on Volokh Conspiracy and received a “delay is bad enough, ’cause we’re paranoid Republicans.”

  28. Richard:

    I don’t see where proportionality matters. The problem seems to be that they used political criteria – use of Tea Party or Patriot in the group name-as the trigger for conducting further investigation (and then, in some circumstances, asking highly inappropriate questions in the investigation like the content of the political positions which the group holds and the name of donors). The problem isn’t that more investigations were conducted of conservative groups than liberal ones – that’s probably due to more conservative groups applying. It’s that the criteria used as the trigger only applied to conservative groups. Even if that decision wasn’t political and was simply done for beaurocratic ease to identify groups that might be more inclined to be political in a way that does not meet the guidelines, it was a stupid decision

  29. firefall:

    That question clearly has nothing to do with the USA

  30. Jeremy:

    From what I can tell, and all the reporting has been kind of vague on this point, the Cincinnati office was where all 501c(4) applications nationwide were processed. Recently, responsibility seems to have shifted to a Washington, DC office.

  31. Malaclypse:

    I don’t see where proportionality matters. The problem seems to be that they used political criteria – use of Tea Party or Patriot in the group name

    Proportionality matters because if they were equally likely to target “Liberal Feminists for ACORN” then the entire story about punishing conservatives turns out to be complete and utter bullshit.

  32. laura:

    ok, then, I guess I can see how the consequences are national rather than regional, but it’s still about a single office screwing up (and most likely in a fairly minor way at that). So in the end it’s really about the culture (or hiring, training, protocol) at that one office that might need fixing.

  33. DocAmazing:

    Infrared office, actually. You’d really have been in trouble in the UV office.

  34. Hogan:

    Goddamn Irish skin.

  35. tofubo:

    proportionality aside (yes i know, numbers do matter), the main numbers to fixate on are this:

    ZERO “tea party/912/my dick is small” named parties (or variations of the same) had applications rejected (at best, a number were slowed and are still in the pipeline); the only one reported to be rejected was a “progressive” named party in the northeast somewhere

  36. tofubo:

    “facts” and “numbers” to back the previous comment “up”

    http://www.irehr.org/issue-areas/tea-party-nationalism/tea-party-news-and-analysis/item/482-tea-party-irs-scandal

  37. Richard:

    I agree with that but there is NO evidence that they chose liberal code words- progressive, liberal, feminist, etc – to start an investigation. The IG report found no evidence of that, just conservative code words.

  38. Richard:

    I agree with you that the harm here seems to be minimal or nonexistent. The only problem as I see it is that some lower level people decided that all groups with Tea Party or Patriot in their name warranted further investigation (and that immediate steps were not taken to stop this and remedy the situation when supervisors found out).

  39. liberal:

    Frankly, that’s silly. Either they’re picking targets based on some kind of semantic criteria, or they’re picking randomly, or they’re picking all.

    In this case, picking targets based on semantic criteria would seem to be the fastest way to find violators. Why _not_ pick Tea Party? Maybe no liberal groups applying for this status had “party” in their name?

    Until you know the totality of the groups that applied and the totality of the search terms used, any speculation of unfairness on the IRS’s part is built on nothing.

  40. liberal:

    It seems entirely reasonable to target groups with “Tea Party” in their name, given the purpose at hand.

    Would you suggest they never vet groups with the name “Green Party” in their name? “Democratic Party”?

  41. Richard:

    I suggest that if they are going to vet groups with “party” in their name, they target all such groups and not just the ones with “tea” or “patriot” in the name.. According to the IG report, they didn’t do that.

  42. Richard:

    The IG report begs to differ

  43. TT:

    Three-fer, I’d say: Continuing to make the government as dysfunctional as possible for everyone Republican rent-seekers.

  44. Haystack:

    I dunno. The part that bugs me is the notion that these organizations are benign. I would guess most decent people’s problems with Tea party groups, after what we’ve seen over four years, isn’t so much their politics, as appalling as they may be, but their behavior.

    They are agitators, and they’re very open about it. Busting up town hall meetings, openly carrying weapons at rallies, targeting community outreach organizations with faked-up sting tactics, strident racism in their literature and cartoons, etc., etc. These are bad people. Shouldn’t that be part of this conversation?

    It makes sense to me that a bureaucrat would automatically turn a jaundiced eye to an application filed by a Tea Party association asking for tax-exempt status.

  45. jkay:

    But your Bernstein link’s bad, to a DIFFERENT, if separately cool post, about employment.

  46. Kurzleg:

    No, you just have to scroll down a bit.

  47. Fake Irishman:

    And people get mad when they’re burned by the IRS….

  48. witless chum:

    Republicans always think it’s a scandal when someone suggests they should pay taxes.

  49. RedSquareBear:

    Or the GOP’s version of the USA.

  50. Joseph Slater:

    And a website of a union that has made a point of not being affiliated with the AFL-CIO. So the whole “treason to further union solidarity” hypothesis is pretty implausible.

  51. Joe:

    Clearly, the agency screwed up in a big way that threatens to deepen our already dysfunctional politics. That said, partisan bias on behalf of the agents is not obvious.

    The use of “a big way” here is less strident, including left leaning commentators, have labeled this. I am game in thinking there was a screw-up, but from some accounts, we are supposed to be shocked by what happened here, horrified, with implications that it was Nixonian or something. That is overblown.

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