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May 14, 2013 01:29 PM UTC

How About a Scandal Bush Didn't Commit First?

  • by: Colorado Pols
Been there. Done that.
Been there. Done that.

Second-term "scandal season" appears to be fully engaged in Washington, D.C., with beltway reporters tripping over each other to get the latest development, tidbit or rumor on several different potentially unsavory stories involving the Obama administration. Over the weekend, we wrote about the renewed questioning about the attack last year on an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The political opportunity for Republicans in attacking both President Barack Obama and prospective 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in one fell swoop has guaranteed maximum effort will be put into hyping what looks like a perilously thin case (as opposed to, say, fictitious weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) of foreign policy "dishonesty."

A second story brewing concerns the supposed "targeting" of conservative groups with the words "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their names by the Internal Revenue Service for "additional scrutiny." NBC News reports:

Amid outcry over revelations that Internal Revenue Service specialists specifically targeted conservative groups for scrutiny before the 2012 elections, President Barack Obama said Monday that the tax agency employees' reported conduct was "outrageous" and "contrary to our traditions."

"…If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it," he said.

Of the "scandal" stories that have sprung up in the last week, this business about the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups is arguably the most problematic. The controversy over who "authored the talking points" over the attack on the Benghazi consulate has limited value beyond a small number of obsessives. The power of the IRS brought to bear against political opponents, however, would be a serious problem, even if it was only low-level employees. No responsible person, including defenders of the administration, should disagree.

That said, the fact that former President George W. Bush's IRS did the same thing…still matters, right?


“I wish there was more GOP interest when I raised the same issue during the Bush administration, where they audited a progressive church in my district in what look liked a very selective way,” California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on MSNBC Monday. “I found only one Republican, [North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones], that would join me in calling for an investigation during the Bush administration. I’m glad now that the GOP has found interest in this issue and it ought to be a bipartisan concern.”

The well-known church, All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, became a bit of a cause célèbre on the left after the IRS threatened to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status over an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. “Jesus [would say], ‘Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine,’” rector George Regas said from the dais…

And it wasn’t just churches. In 2004, the IRS went after the NAACP, auditing the nation’s oldest civil rights group after its chairman criticized President Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. “They are saying if you criticize the president we are going to take your tax exemption away from you,” then-chairman Julian Bond said. “It’s pretty obvious that the complainant was someone who doesn’t believe George Bush should be criticized, and it’s obvious of their response that the IRS believes this, too.”

Yesterday's Salon story also describes a 2006 complaint against Greenpeace by an obscure conservative organization, which led to an audit and threats to revoke the tax status of that organization. Ultimately, much like the "additional screening" alleged to have been prescribed for "Tea Party" and "Patriot" groups more recently, the increased level of scrutiny of these liberal groups under Bush's IRS led to nothing. Then as now, none of the groups "targeted" were actually stripped of their status–the grievance was and is more about the time and expense involved in satisfying requests for records.

There's one other local detail to add to this story that we think readers might find interesting. Some might recall a state campaign finance law complaint filed by longtime Pakistani-American GOP donor Malik Hasan against the Southern Colorado Tea Party, related to that group's explicit support for 2010 Colorado treasurer candidate J.J. Ament against opponent Ali Hasan. In May of 2012, the Southern Colorado Tea Party was ordered to pay some $20,000 in fines and late fees related to not having filed as a donor committee with the Colorado Secretary of State. In response to the allegation, the SCTP claimed that "ours was an organization just like a bowling league, a community organization."

Folks, we can't speculate what other "Tea Party" groups might have put on their tax-exempt applications, but that kind of laissez-faire mentality about campaign finance appears awfully common with these groups. How many of them would plead the same as what the Southern Colorado Tea Party told the judge–"just like a bowling league?" It seems to us that would result in a little "scrutiny"–and it should.


15 thoughts on “How About a Scandal Bush Didn’t Commit First?

  1. In year 5 of Obama's presidency, you can stop blaming Bush.

    As for the Tea Party, the problems with the Pueblo groups sum up what Scott Gessler is talking about re: the rules making participation in politics difficult. I bet it does feel like a social group. Why should a lawyer be necessary to participate in politics? That's where Republicans stand.

    But it's not where Obama's IRS stands…

    1. It's not Obama's IRS. The separation between the IRS and the Presidency is very strictly mandated by law since Nixon used it as a weapon of choice.

    2. Gee, who is that icon on your avatar…its like some president of old that you somehow thinks has some historical or philoshophical relevance?  Hmmm. Intersting.  Did you know that to many folks–ones that use the cells between the waxy substance bulding up in their ears–view comparisons with others, including immediate predecessors, that held that same office not as 'blaming' but as 'history.' 

  2. I've been involved in a political-advocacy group which received donations. There was great concern and care given to separating the advocacy from the political-action side. We knew damn-well, that the IRS could go after us if we didn't keep good records, and clarity of purpose. We avoided even the appearance of fuzzy boundaries.

    The IRS was directed did go after the tax status of Greenpeace, the NAACP and some churches during the Bush administration.

  3.  All true but that very much doesn't make it right.  What disturbs me most is the   extensive spying on reporters' phone lines in investigating leaks, as Rs and especially McCain loudly demanded. It seems quite excessive, to put it mildly.

    I can understand the Obama administration's paranoia.  After all the GOP  is ready to pounce on any any terrorist incident on Obama's watch but then, they are equally ready to pounce on excessive spying and, in any case, that's no excuse. I understand paranoia about another incident apart from political considerations. As for the IRS thing, it's just entirely wrong no matter who has done it before.

    As far as the excessive snooping on reporters, I think it's time to admit that we are never going to be as secure as a totalitarian state that can torture, black hole imprison,  control the media and gather every bit of information on every citizen with no constraints. 

    It's time to say… OK boys and girls. The United States of America is not going to be a totalitarian state and there is a price for that. We have to give up a certain amount of security in order to  preserve individual freedom, rights and access to due process. We can't guarantee perfect security unless we're ready to give up being everything the United States of America stands for. If you want to live in a safer but less free country, you're going to have to  leave because we aren't going to allow terrorists to turn us into that kind of country.

    Obama administration, please get a grip. You may not have to be re-elected but whoever runs next has to deal with the consequences of these drip, drip, dripping legitimate concerns. That would exclude Benghazi which is pure unadulterated political witch hunt.



    1. Doesn't the outrage over spying on reporters ignore the elephant in the room?

      It would appear that the government is essentially tapping ALL our phones and digital communications. Udall has alluded to this and the post-Boston investigation seemed to insinuate this. It's one helluva cookie jar that anybody with power will have a hard time resisting.

      1. That's why this one disturbs me the most. If  the price of security is a totalitarian spy state then whatever degree of security must be sacrificed to avoid the latter must be sacrificed.  Period. Like our rightie friends love to say… freedom isn't free.

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