After the Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens United decision in 2010 that opened the way for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns, all that new funding needed someplace to go where it would not be easily tracked. In response, the number of groups seeking 501(c)(4) status – which, in addition to the tax break, allows donors to remain anonymous – shot up to 3,400 in 2012.
The flood of applications overloaded the IRS processing system. It may be wrong that, in order to deal with the mountain of paperwork, the IRS functionaries began culling the applicants by looking for keywords such as “tea party” and “patriot,” but I suspect it had far less to do with political bias than it did with the fact that the majority of new groups were conservative. If someone were running a bogus political operation and wanted to attract corporate cash, they would probably pretend to be some kind of grass-roots tea party group. It is entirely understandable that an overwhelmed IRS bureaucrat would choose to look for questionable applicants in the most obvious places.
The fact is that none of the right-wing applicants were turned down, even though they are probably as engaged in partisan campaigning as Karl Rove or Jim Messina. A 501(c)(4) group is, by law, supposed to be a social welfare organization whose primary activity is not politics. Can anyone honestly say that about Rove or Messina or any of the many tea party organizations?
Sadly, after this so-called scandal has blown over and enough heads have rolled, the cowed IRS will be even more timid in denying tax-exempt designation to any front organization run by partisan political operatives and funded by corporate moneymen who want to keep their names out of the news.
DAVID HORSEY, writing in the Los Angeles Times, “The Real Scandal: IRS Gives Tax Exemptions to Political Partisans.”