While facts continue to seep out, the basic ones surrounding the Internal Revenue Service’s handling of applications for tax-exempt status are damning.
The agency — one that has access to the private financial information of all U.S. citizens — apparently targeted conservative groups when evaluating Section 501(c)(4) “social welfare organizations.” IRS workers gave extra scrutiny to organizations that had the terms “tea party,” “patriot” and other conservative catch words.
The effort to enjoy the tax-exempt status of becoming a 501(c)(4) organization is an obnoxious game that took off in 2009. Unlike most groups involved in political advocacy, donors to 501(c)(4)s can remain anonymous. They have been abused by both left-leaning and right-leaning groups.
Cracking down on the groups is long overdue. They impede the transparency that is so lacking in U.S. politics.
Whether through incredible stupidity or ideological malice, the IRS apparently focused its crackdown on conservatives.
President Barack Obama said all the right things in condemning the practice, but no one should ignore that he and other Democrats seeking office in 2012 were its primary beneficiaries. The investigation of the IRS practice should be thorough, independent and should include a focus on whether there was White House involvement.