Alec MacGillis has written a great article over at the magazine Andrew Sullivan almost destroyed. All right, The New Republic! Called The Real Scandal Behind the IRS Controversy, it simultaneously puts the IRS “scandal” into perspective and presents what is a real scandal.
Why did the IRS group in the Cincinnati office go after the poor Tea Party groups? Very simply: because they were suspicious. The 501(c)(4) clause is supposed to be used by groups that are committed to the social good. For example, a group that wants to raise money to increase awareness of the plight of the Wandering Salamander. It isn’t for groups that want to encourage Obama to “stop killing babies” in the middle of the 2012 campaign. There is a bit of tax code for that: 501(c)(3). The problem is that such groups have to reveal who their donors are. As of 2009, there was a huge increase in new groups that claimed to be 501(c)(4) compliant. It rightly seemed fishy to the Cincinnati group and it made sense to target right wing groups because the vast majority of these new groups were right wing.
MacGillis notes one aspect of this that I wrote about this morning:
But MacGillis isn’t an apologist for the IRS. He notes that there were two aspects of this right wing deluge of questionable 501(c)(4) use. One part was the smaller Tea Party groups. But the more important was the huge groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. In fact, he notes that Crossroads GPS alone was responsible for 28% of the $254 million spent by all 501(c)(4) groups. Yet Crossroads GPS didn’t hear a peep from the IRS. That’s a scandal!
But it is hardly surprising. Here in the United States the law is applied equally to all people and institutions. Unless the person or institution gets big enough. Then they are above the law. That’s what was going on at the IRS regarding their investigation of the 501(c)(4) groups. In their defense, I suspect that the Cincinnati group was afraid to go after Karl Rove. And it is certainly the case that Rove would have sent his high paid lawyers after them. But cowardice is no excuse. And all it does is lead to our current situation with a two-tracked justice system.
I have little doubt that this will get little coverage in the coming hysteria over the IRS actions. The Republicans and Democrats are about equally committed to comforting the rich and powerful. Time will tell.