IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was forced to testify on Wednesday before a Republican impeachment committee. Republicans are doing this because the IRS (under a previous commissioner) dared to check whether organizations applying for special IRS nonprofit status were following the law or illegally promoting candidates.
Republicans in Congress want to send the IRS and other government agencies a clear message: If government employees try to make corporate/conservative movement organizations follow the laws and rules, Republicans will make their lives miserable, bankrupt them and ruin their careers. And thanks to the huge sums of “dark” money flowing to Republican candidates from billionaires and corporations, they have the power to do it.
There has been a big brouhaha over the IRS “targeting” conservative groups. Here is what actually happened: The IRS looked at a number of organizations – both conservative and not – applying for nonprofit status to see if they were engaged in a level of political activity that would make them ineligible. The IRS asked questions to find out if they were really legitimate nonprofits or instead were primarily political organizations.
That’s it. That’s what happened. The propaganda word “targeted” is used to make it appear something sinister was done but nothing actually happened to any of these organizations. They were not kept from raising money while the IRS considered whether to grant them charity status. The organizations were not, in the end, denied charity status (thanks to Republican intimidation of the agency). No one was “audited.” Nothing. Nada.
It is the job of the IRS to look at whether groups applying for nonprofit status are actually political operations in disguise. The IRS’ crime was including “conservative” organizations among those checked. (Never mind that groups labeling themselves “conservative” clearly implies they have a political mission.)
Here is why this matters. Donors to 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations – the IRS nonprofit categories most in question – do not have to be reported to the public. Donors to political campaigns do. Money donated to some kinds of nonprofits can be deducted from taxes. Money donated to political organizations cannot.
Corporations and conservative billionaires have been channeling “dark” money into Republican politics using these nonprofits as front groups, in order to keep the sources of this money from the public. For example, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has registered itself with the IRS as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization so it does not have to disclose its donors. It spent $145 million on TV campaign ads promoting Republican candidates in 2012 without the pubic learning who paid for those ads.
Michael McAuliff reported on this in 2014 at The Huffington Post, in “Republican Outrage At IRS Is All About Protecting Karl Rove, Dark Money, Dems Say“:
While Republicans expressed outrage that Lerner would be interested in denying Crossroads its tax breaks, the watchdogs who filed many of the complaints, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, say she was simply doing her job. They point to an opinion by lawyers at the Federal Election Commission who deemed Crossroads to be a political organization. (The FEC is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and they have deadlocked over taking action on the lawyers’ recommendation.)
Still, if Lerner was “targeting” Crossroads, then so was the FEC, which got a formal complaint about the group from Public Citizen, said CLC senior counsel Paul S. Ryan in an interview with The Huffington Post.
“One of the things that really struck me as odd is that Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee were critical of Lois Lerner for looking at Crossroads GPS as if that were a bad thing, when in my opinion, that is her job,” Ryan said.
Threats And Intimidation
Imagine you are an employee at the IRS or some other government agency and you are deciding whether to look at the actions of an organization to see if it is an illegal Republican front group. But this week you see the IRS commissioner on TV being shamed, harassed and smeared in a Republican Congressional hearing, his bank account being drained paying for legal help. Are you going to risk the same happening to you? It just isn’t worth it.
The ostensible reason for the impeachment effort is that the commissioner “lied” when he said emails about checking the status of applicants would be turned over to the Republican investigation, because later it turned out that some email had been routinely destroyed according to IRS procedures.
Even the Republican outlet Fox News admits, in a report on the hearings:
Despite numerous probes by Congress, the Justice Department and the IRS’ independent inspector general, no proof has emerged that the IRS’s treatment of conservative organizations was politically motivated or that any documents were purposely destroyed to hide evidence.
No matter. The purpose of the hearings is obviously not what Republicans say it is. Obviously this is about using power and threats and intimidation to “work the ref” and keep government agencies from enforcing laws and rules that would apply to illegal conservative and corporate election activity supporting Republicans.
The Republican hearing on impeaching the IRS commissioner is an obvious attempt to kneecap the IRS and keep it from doing its job. The IRS was legitimately trying to police the misuse of charitable organizations to keep secret the sources of political cash. This Republican war on the IRS is all about Republicans trying to take out the policeman as part of their plan to rob the bank.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. It also appeared on September 22, 2016 on Seeing the Forest, a website featuring commentary by Dave Johnson, frequent public speaker and talk-radio guest and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Johnson.