After Four Years, IRS Finally Confirms There Was No Targeting of Tea Party Groups

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Do you remember Lois Lerner? BOLO? The IRS audits of tea party organizations?

Sure you do. Back in 2013 Republicans were on the warpath over this. The IRS, they said, had identified dozens, maybe hundreds, of tea party organizations for extreme audits based on their political leanings. These groups were being denied tax-exempt status thanks to crooked officials like Lois Lerner, who maintained a “Be On The Lookout” list that shunted these groups into a confusing maze of questions and demands that lasted for months or years, all because of suspicious words like “patriot” or “9/12” in their names. It was a scandal.

That same year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released an audit that confirmed some of these charges. True, they also identified some progressive organizations that were audited, but it was clear that it was tea partiers they were really after.

Well, funny story. It turns out that the 2013 audit was based on incomplete information because the IRS didn’t maintain case listings for most of the BOLO criteria. So TIGTA conducted a second audit. This one took a lot longer because they had to manually reconstruct the case listings themselves. Four years later it’s finally been released. This is their best attempt at recreating the case listing of organizations that might have been targeted based on BOLO criteria. Here’s how it shook out:

  • 927 cases requested
  • 919 cases received
  • 739 cases reviewed
  • 181 political cases identified
  • 146 political cases based on BOLO criteria

And what did TIGTA find? Of these 146 cases which met the BOLO criteria based on words in the organization’s name, a grand total of ten were tea-party groups. Here’s the whole chart:

“We the people” and “pink slip” are associated with tea-party groups. In total, TIGTA identified 111 left-wing groups and 19 right-wing groups. (It’s unclear how the “healthcare” category broke out between left and right.)

Note that this audit is not based on miscellaneous PowerPoint presentations or emails. It’s based on actual cases that might have been referred for further investigation. Of those, only 15 percent were conservative groups. That’s it. The vast majority were liberal groups.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, who was one of the ringleaders of the original Lois Lerner lynching, is pretending that the new audit confirms what “government watchdogs” like Kevin Brady have been saying all along: “Bureaucrats at the IRS, such as Lois Lerner, arbitrarily and haphazardly administered the tax code and targeted taxpayers based on political ideology.”

No. That’s not what they were saying at the time. They said the Obama IRS was corruptly targeting conservative groups for harassment. But that wasn’t true. Whether or not the BOLO list was a good idea, it never had anything to do with Obama. It got its start back in 2004, and during the Obama administration it was mostly used to target liberal groups.

There was nothing to any of this. There was never anything to it. Just a couple of PowerPoint presentations that were blown up into a “scandal” that never existed. But it took four years to officially confirm that.

Back in June 2013, Jon Chait wrote this:

Do you remember how all-consuming the “Obama scandals” once were? This was a turn of events so dramatic it defined Obama’s entire second term — he was “waylaid by controversies,” or at least “seriously off track,” “beset by scandals,” enduring a “second-term curse,” the prospect of “endless scandals,” Republicans “beginning to write his legislative obituary,” and Washington had “turned on Obama.” A ritualistic media grilling of Jay Carney, featuring the ritualistic comparisons of him to Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, sanctified the impression of guilt.

Four years later, we know even more about the “Big Three” scandals. It turns out there was never the slightest scandal associated with Benghazi. There was no IRS scandal. And Obama’s prosecution of leaks may have been unwise policy, but there was never anything remotely corrupt about it.

Oh, and Hillary Clinton’s emails? The more we found out about that, the less there was. Ditto for the Clinton Foundation. And her health. Hillary Clinton had her own Big Three scandals, and they turned out to be just as baseless as Obama’s. Imagine that.


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