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Why the IRS Scandal is So Bad

IRS testifying


Stephen M. Krason - published on 05/21/13 - updated on 06/08/17

The targeting of pro-life and pro-family groups is just the tip of the iceberg

The revelations of the scandals within the Obama administration in the past couple of weeks make those of us who are old enough recall 1973, when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigative reporting and then the hearings of a special Senate investigative committee brought to the public one astounding detail after another about Watergate. The current developments have been even more striking.

One scandal or possible scandal after another, reaching across different executive branch agencies, have come to light in breathtakingly brief succession. There has been the apparent cover-up about the Benghazi episode, the Justice Department’s open-ended seizure of phone records from a wide array of Associated Press offices (including one in the U.S. Capitol Building), the disclosure of apparently politically-motivated decisions and actions by the IRS, the seeming policy of the EPA of waiving fees and fines on the basis of groups’ political views, the reports that HHS Secretary Sebelius has been contacting companies—including possibly those regulated by her department—to solicit funds to help implement Obamacare, and accusations of sexual assault against military men in two branches of the armed forces whose jobs were to prevent sexual assaults.

Of all these possible or acknowledged scandals, however, especially troubling for most Americans is the one involving the IRS—if for no other reasons than that its sights can easily be turned on them. The IRS has admitted to singling out Tea Party and other conservative groups that were applying for tax-exempt status under Section 501 (c) (4) of the Internal Revenue Code. It delayed their applications—sometimes for years—and made excessive and irrelevant inquiries. It often flagged organizations just because they used terms such as “patriot” or “limited government” to refer to themselves and their work. Sometimes it asked for donor or even membership lists (this directly violates the standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent of NAACP v. Alabama [1957]), which held that such membership queries violated the freedom of association implicitly protected by the First Amendment. At the same time, leftist groups got a pass. Such disparate treatment flies in the face of another long-established constitutional doctrine, in which the Court has forbade viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment free speech clause.

The IRS apparently also leaked confidential information, a violation of federal law. It appears that they provided information about pending 501 (c) (4) applications by conservative groups to ProPublica, a leftist media organization. During the 2008 campaign for the anti-same-sex “marriage” Proposition 8 in California, it also appears that the IRS leaked confidential information about the National Organization for Marriage’s donors to its adversary, the pro-homosexualist Human Rights Campaign. The head of the HRC was Obama’s 2008 campaign co-chairman. NOM plans to sue the IRS over this.

There have also been revelations that the IRS made as a condition of a favorable ruling for tax-exempt status for a pro-life group that it not actively protest at Planned Parenthood facilities. Another pro-life group—a Christian organization—was closely scrutinized for involvement in the annual “Life Chain” and prayer vigils and was probed about the viewpoint content of its educational materials. The Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm, has taken up their cases. The one involves an attempt to stop constitutionally-protected peaceful picketing, and the other more unconstitutional viewpoint-based discrimination and a threat to the freedom of assembly.

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