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IRS tea party targeting "scandal" does not live up to the name

Now that more extensive, dispassionate reporting has been done about the "scandal” at the IRS, it is abundantly obvious that what is being called “targeting” of tea party organizations and other conservative groups was the result of bureaucratic confusion, not political conspiracy.

The facts, of course, will not get in the way of this latest Republican jihad against the Obama administration. Republicans will continue to pump up the illusion of scandal for weeks to come and, just as some folks on the right remain convinced that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, those same people will take to their graves the conviction that he and his minions at the IRS plotted to impede the liberties of tea party activists.

It is actually a bit comical that conservatives who decry the size of the American government have not figured out just how many layers of bureaucracy stand between the president and a lowly backwater outpost of the Internal Revenue Service. And conservative anti-tax crusaders surely should be able to appreciate that even IRS agents have trouble deciphering the nearly 4 million words in the U.S. tax code. 

In a comprehensive New York Times story about the now-notorious Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS based in Cincinnati, a former IRS lawyer, Philip Hackney, succinctly described the mundane reality. “We’re talking about an office overwhelmed by 60,000 paper applications trying to find efficient means of dealing with that,” Hackney said. “There were times when they came up with shortcuts that were efficient but didn’t take into consideration the public perception.” 

The shortcut they used in trying to identify groups whose political activities might bar them from getting a tax break was to employ keywords like “tea party” and “patriot” in data searches. As a result, numerous conservative groups got snared for extra scrutiny. But they were not alone. More than 400 organizations of various types got special attention, including two dozen or more liberal groups.

That is not so much a case of targeting as it is an example of casting a wide net to scoop up a variety of politically oriented associations. And it definitely falls far short of a serious scandal. Watergate, this is not. Nor does it have any of the prurient appeal of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. In the end, no one is going to care that a few tax bureaucrats buried by an avalanche of paperwork found a clumsy way to try to dig themselves out.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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