In 2010, the IRS under the Obama administration began doing something unprecedented in the tax collector’s history: Using partisan politics as a weapon against those who would oppose President Obama.
As exposed by investigative journalists, government watchdog groups, and the government’s own independent oversight agency, the IRS began systematically pulling Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny whenever they applied for tax-exempt status. The targeting took the form of additional questions, delayed decisions, and other manufactured obstacles that other non-profits never had to face. Finally, this year, a judge decided in favor of the targeted groups – numbering more than 100 – and ordered the IRS to issue each of them an apology.
This week, the IRS had to give up more than their pride. A judge signed off on a settlement between the IRS and their victims which will see the government pay more than $3.5 million to put the case behind them forever. The irony, if there is any, is that most of the targeted groups would see this enormous expenditure of taxpayer money a blight on Washington under ordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, without such a penalty – which will see each group get somewhere in the neighborhood of $17,000 – there is little guarantee that such political targeting will not occur again in the future.
“It shows that when a government agency desires to target citizens based on their viewpoints, a price will be paid,” said Edward Greim, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The settlement will put to bed a case that has been raging for nearly eight years at this point, though a few loose ends are yet to be wrapped up. One such dangling thread is the matter of Lois Lerner’s testimony. Lerner was a central figure in the case – an IRS supervisor who is accused of both knowing about the illegal targeting and encouraging it. Government officials, however, say she is an unheralded hero who did everything she could to stop the practice. The truth remains shrouded in mystery, however, because Lerner’s own courtroom defense has been sealed from public view. Lerner and her attorneys argue that it must stay that way because she still receives death threats on a regular basis.
The judge in the case will decide this week whether or not that justification hold water or if there is an overruling public need for Lerner’s testimony to be released.
It is to this despicable IRS saga that we point when his supporters claim he ran a “scandal-free” administration. It was, of course, only “scandal free” insofar as a sympathetic media refused to cover the scandals with any particular appetite for truth. Contrast that with their coverage of the Trump administration, which latches on to every stray word a White House official says in an effort to bring this president down. Not only is the IRS targeting scandal a dark moment in the history of the U.S. federal government, it shines as a troubling example of just how obscenely different the media’s coverage of this administration is from the way they coddled the last one.