It's a little too early to make full sense of the story about the IRS targeting Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status. From what I've read, my feeling is that it's profoundly wrong for the IRS to target anyone or group because of their political beliefs, abusively unacceptable, and potentially dangerous -- but -- it's well-within their right to look into any and all groups applying for tax-exempt status. They should have looked into the Tea Party groups, but they should have done so in a balanced way, on all sides. One difficulty that leads to the imbalance is that Tea Party filings for tax-exempt status wildly exceeded liberal groups applying. That doesn't let the IRS off the hook, what they did appears to have been over-the-line, but it doesn't seem as far over that line as it might appear without looking too deeply.
Adding to the issue are three important facts that I think are getting overlooked in the discussion amid all the otherwise-understandable outrage:
One is that the Tea Party is different from most political groups is that it really is a corporate entity, in large part funded by two, literal corporations, Freedomworks, funded by the Koch Brothers, and Tea Party Express, organized by Dick Armey. At the core base, they are special interest and PR corporations. So, I think it's fair to differentiate Tea Party corporations from political organizations. There's a line to balance for the IRS -- knowing when a group is acting on pure politics interests, and when its acting on corporate interests, but it's important to know that the "Tea Party" itself has created and moved that very thin line.
The second is knowing that the IRS didn't turn down a single of the Tea Party applications for tax-exempt status.
And the third is that the IRS has a history of playing fast and loose with its great power, having gone after liberal groups like the NAACP in the past. The point being that this isn't purely a problem of The Government Going After Conservatives. It's about having proper oversight over the IRS, so that it doesn't improperly target anyone and abuse its power.
Clearly, Republicans will do their best to use this as a political issue, though it appears that the president wasn't even aware of the situation until last Friday. This appears to be an internal IRS issue that needs cleaning up. But we'll know more soon enough.
I look forward to finding out more about what actually occurred, and the IRS does seem right to have admitted error. How much an error remains to be seen. But for now, my perception is -- I think every organization applying for tax-exempt status should be followed up on to make sure it's not skirting the law (though I suspect the IRS doesn't have close to the personnel), but it should have been balanced here and done better across the board on both sides of the aisle.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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