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Snap Poll: Most think politics drove IRS targeting

Rochester Business Journal
May 31, 2013

More than 75 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say they believe the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups for closer scrutiny was politically motivated.

IRS officials admitted that conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status were singled out for special scrutiny. The acting IRS commissioner has been replaced, and the head of the IRS division on tax-exempt organizations was put on administrative leave.

Allegations of targeting by the IRS date to February 2012. Last summer, the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration launched an audit of the IRS at the request of lawmakers. His report, released May 14, blamed IRS managers for allowing “inappropriate criteria” to be used in scrutinizing groups such as those with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their name. The inspector general’s report included no findings that the extra scrutiny had been motivated by political bias or that anyone outside the IRS influenced the criteria.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that “the report’s findings are intolerable and inexcusable.” The administration has ordered a federal investigation to determine whether IRS officials broke any criminal laws.

Congressional Republicans, however, have expressed skepticism that IRS staffers acted on their own. They have launched inquiries to find out if the White House or others in the administration influenced the IRS targeting of conservative groups.

Most RBJ Snap Poll respondents think it’s likely the White House had a role in the IRS decision to target conservative groups for closer scrutiny. Seventy percent say it’s likely—and of those 55 percent think it’s very likely.

The plurality of respondents—43 percent—gave Obama’s response to the scandal a failing grade, compared with 13 percent who graded him an A.

The law places tight limits on political activities by non-profit groups. Section 501(c)(3) organizations are barred from any political activity. Other organizations, including 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations, can engage in only a limited amount of political activity. The IRS has said the inappropriate criteria were used as a “short cut” because of an increase in applications.

The IRS receives roughly 70,000 applications for tax-exempt status each year.

Nearly 800 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted May 28.

Do you think the IRS targeting of conservative groups for closer scrutiny was politically motivated?
Yes: 76%
No: 24%

In your opinion, is it likely or unlikely that the White House had a role in the IRS decision to target conservative groups for closer scrutiny?
Very likely: 55%
Somewhat likely: 15%
Not very likely: 14%
Not at all likely: 16%

How would you grade President Barack Obama’s response to the inspector general’s report on the IRS targeting of conservative groups?
A: 13%
B: 15%
C: 14%
D: 15%
F: 43%

COMMENTS:

I cannot believe low-level IRS agents did this on their own. Someone of power is behind this. There is more to this than we are being told, or will be told!
—Harold H. Ley, Appliance Associates of Buffalo

The behavior of this president, the White House staff and the entire administration is pathetic at best and illegal at the worst. People now distrust—even fear—the government. What a sorry state for America.
—Bob Worden, Penn Yan

A short cut for analysis, created by lower-level civil servants, with no crime committed is what it is. Not a crime or a political scandal, which the conservative right is trying to tie to the White House. Someday we may get lucky; they will do their job and govern rather than pontificate, obstruct and make everything a “scandal.”
—M. Zukerman

He wags his finger but takes no accountability or action. He’s hoping the Teflon kicks in once again.
—Dom Pullano

Hope and change … Chicago style.
—Doug Strang

While I doubt if there were “orders” given from anyone in the White House—as was done with Watergate—there was certainly an attitude that saw those groups as political enemies. Remember, this was going on before the presidential election of 2012. More than likely there were midlevel managers who saw this as a way to protect or help out the president in his re-election.
—Keith E. Griswold, Rochester

Why do we ignore common sense so much today? Of course it was politically motivated. What concerns me is that we are actually asking the question. There are a great many of us that still look at things in black and white and not the gray fog the progressives would have us embrace.
—Todd Baker, Henrietta

The IRS has been enjoying zero oversight by any other agency for years and years. There is nobody to question anything they do. This is yet another example of how they operate. I recall reading horrifying stories of people committing suicide because of IRS investigations that just kept digging—over not much. Stories of innocent people being hounded and hounded after they were audited and nothing found.
—Kathy Keady

This is abhorrent behavior from the most powerful of government agencies. It is truly scary and should be a wakeup call to all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. These people are now in charge of our health care and private health records! God help us!
—Joe Dattilo

Maybe. How would I really know? But this isn’t actually the right question. This question translates to: “Do you trust the administration?” and is not related to the actual truth. The right question is: Why would the government ever allow groups with a partisan agenda, regardless of their ideology, to register as tax-exempt non-profits? Why should taxpayers subsidize any such groups and reward their contributors?
—Gary Bogue, consultant

Once again it shows this White House will break any law it needs to in order to bankrupt this country morally and financially.
—Michael Higgins, Rochester

Do you really even need to ask this question? All trust in this administration is long gone. I am having trouble keeping track of all the corruption and scandals. America is at a turning point, and the masses better wake up. God bless America! Oops! Am I still allowed to say that?
—P. Casines, Penfield

Everybody knows it was politically motivated. It just shows what the current president will do to stay in power.
—Dan Zarpentine

As info comes out, we see that in the end no conservative—and almost no other groups—were denied tax-exempt status. Your premise that 501(c)(4) may engage in some political activity is not the law. Though the law has been applied that such groups must be "primarily" engaged in charity or social welfare activity to be granted tax exempt status, the law states "exclusively." This is not ambiguous. All political groups under the law must be denied tax-exempt status and then they would have to disclose their donors. Such transparency is required by democracy. For conservative or Tea Party groups to claim they were not political advocacy groups is absurd in the extreme. Most of the money from millionaires and billionaires went to conservative groups and where it went to a Democratic Party group, they should also be denied tax exempt status so donors would see the light of day. This type of tax exempt status is all about corruption of the political process, and when investigating corruption you "follow the money.” The majority of that money and political corruption leads directly to Tea Party and conservative groups funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, Trump, Adelson, etc. Poor billionaires, so harassed and discriminated against. These never ending claims of victimhood by the rich and powerful are both laughable and sickening.
—Jim Bertolone, AFL-CIO

The Obama Administration is filled with devotees of Saul Alinsky, the former bagman for the Chicago mob who went on to inflame Rochester on his famous visit here and author of "Rules for Radicals," which is the playbook of the Obama crowd. (Community organizer and writer) Alinsky famously championed targeting your political opponents by isolating them, demonizing them and then politically killing them by whatever means available. In the case of the IRS, they isolated them by selecting applications which used words like "Tea Party," attempted to demonize them by searching out donor lists and micro-examining their activities, and delayed approvals in the hopes they would wither on the vine.
—Bob Sarbane

The approach used to validate nonprofit status was wrong. Selective "word searches" should have included similar progressive political groups. The IRS must validate that an organization is truly distinct from a political organization.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results

A real leader takes reasonability for what happens under his watch. I have not seen that yet with this president, and don’t expect to for the rest of his term.
—Mike Gooding, president, Good Vibrations Inc.

The IRS is the enemy of the people and control of it comes directly from the White House. Obama may not have SS or “brownshirts,” but the IRS works just fine. They are experts at extortion and intimidation. The IRS can ruin a person or persons. By illegally targeting conservative and religious organizations and others who disagree with Obama and his policies, his administration is using the IRS to attempt to silence dissent. There are only a few Constitutional reasons for impeachment and “high crimes and misdemeanors” is appropriate and fitting in the case of this president and his administration.
—Michael F. Kloppel, chairman, Ontario County Conservative Party, Canandaigua

Of course it was politically motivated. Why is there any surprise that a party in power was using tools at its disposal to keep the other party from obtaining power, it is done every day. Plus Lois Lerner's history of harassment including lawsuits against conservative religious groups indicates that this scrutiny wasn't done by just a couple of rogue workers in a back office. Did the president know exactly what was taking place is a question for which we'll probably never have the answer. With that said, I would be amazed if political advisers close to the president weren't involved.
—Sam Messer, Applied Measurement & Controls Inc.

Look, folks, this is simple. In 2009 and 2010, Tea Party groups were popping up all over the country and filing for tax-exempt status. The IRS division in charge of tax-exempt status wanted to make sure they caught all of these groups—regardless of political affiliation—to make sure they received extra scrutiny. To find them, they used a few keywords that were common in the names of the groups being created at that time. The majority of groups targeted by the IRS were conservative because the majority of groups applying were conservative. That's all. It's a fake scandal.
—Matthew D. Wilson

The Obama administration is the most vile, corrupt assembly of socialists ever to have power in our country. Of course the scandal of violating Constitutional rights was directed straight from the White House. With the czars and advisers embedded at the White House, it is very likely your elected officials are irrelevant to this administration. Impeachment and imprisonment is in order for much of this merry band of communist clowns. The complicity of the mainstream media is the fuel, if not totally with blame, for the degradation of our Constitutional rights and freedoms that were the impetus for the founding of this great country. Perhaps something akin to the McCarthy hearings are in order to purge our government of socialists and communists. I think the genius political move of Obama was to pick Biden as vice president. The populous is more comfortable with a socialist at the helm then the dimwitted vice president. The oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States is being violated every day by this administration and should be dealt with accordingly by law.
—Lou Romano

What I don't understand is why this bureaucratic abuse is getting so much press, when it has been routine practice through the years.
—Ken Maher

Everything in Washington (and Albany) is politically motivated! During the George W. Bush administration, labor unions came under increased scrutiny by IRS and other federal agencies. This is our government, regardless of the party.
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT

I cannot see anything happening in this country today that is not politically motivated. What a sad state of affairs and tyranny should now deserve a capital "T.”
—Daniel Mossien, architect

The IRS targeting of conservative groups is too widespread to not be politically motivated. It is very likely the White House was involved. Did the president know or was he involved with the decision? All I can say is this administration continues to cover up and withhold information to the American people. What happened to Obama's pledge to have a transparent government?
—Mike Hogan, Information Packaging

The targeting of conservative organizations is appalling but not surprising. Any group that advocates for (among other things) smaller government is threatening to entrenched big government bureaucrats, who are all unionized and left-leaning to begin with. Top it off with the most dishonest president and administration in memory and you have the makings of the perfect storm. This is the moment that all Americans should wake up to the fact that big government is a bad thing, and needs to be cut down to size now!
—George Thomas, Ogden

The federal government has become so expansive, powerful and motivated by a political agenda that American citizens are being denied the freedoms guaranteed by the Founders. Bureaucrats, political appointees, regulators, and the intelligence community have all marched to the politically correct agenda of the day. Especially during the election season that agenda included protecting and advancing the progressive interests of the Obama administration by attacking and marginalizing its critics on all fronts. This administration may call the current trio of scandal political overreach by the Republicans, but clear thinking Americans know that there are simply too many instances of abuse of power for it to be contrived.
—Kathleen A. Wright

Obama and many in his administration cut their teeth on dirty Chicago politics. In my view, he has taken the best tactics used from the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations and used them in his playbook.
—Mike Kaser, Penfield

I don't understand why the 501(c)(4) groups get any tax exemption at all, particularly when we're cutting federal budgets. They all seem politically motivated and many abuse the privilege (e.g.; Karl Rove's group).
—Art Maurer, Penfield

It is possible that IRS staff were trying to find a way to deal with numerous applications. But, as soon as IRS administrators learned what was happening, that should have ended the slowdown. The fact that the slowdown did not end means the tone from the top administrator, President Obama, led the IRS to believe they could continue this activity without violating any ethical position or laws.
—Linda Hunt, citizen

I find nothing wrong (lie) with what the IRS did (wink, wink, nod, nod). I am sure they will (will not) find a reasonable explanation (like pure stupidity) to explain this entire mess (mess? they do this every day). I am sure (not) that this will prove (seriously?) to be just another (like there ever was one) example of the right (left) wing conspiracy at work.
—Bill Lanigan

We don't have all the facts yet on the IRS matter concerning how groups were processed when they requested non-profit status. Certainly, clearer guidance should be offered to the IRS on what should constitute such a status. I would favor making this designation tough to get.
—Carolyn Phinney Rankin, president and creative director, Phinney Rankin Inc.

What a surprise! Staff people from the federal agencies who are members of the party in power sucking up to the people up the pay grade who are in turn sucking up to the people further up the pay grade. In a Republican administration, there is probably "bullying" of liberal groups. Let us not think that this bullying is confined to only the IRS. What makes anyone sure that every federal agency doesn't do bullying too from time to time? Did the president know? Probably not. Did the assistant to the assistant to the under-assistant whose desk is in the West Wing know? Undoubtedly. That person probably did it too when they were a staff person.
—Jay Birnbaum

Of course they were. The director said she was. It was in her inter-office correspondence.
—Karl Schuler

In today’s IRS brouhaha, the issue is the so-called “targeting” of conservative Tea Party groups who sought and were granted tax-exempt status. Groups that win tax exemption are not permitted to engage in politics, but they can be “social welfare” issue groups who can keep their donor lists confidential. The IRS, indeed, has a fiduciary responsibility to investigate those applying for tax-exempt status to determine if they meet the legal requirements. But in today’s IRS "scandal," the IRS was not investigating groups that already had tax-exempt status, nor was the agency sharing their information in order to discredit their political agenda, nor were the Tea Party groups facing potential jail time. The IRS was merely giving extra scrutiny to the virtual explosion of potential 501(c)(4) groups that were created after Citizens United. The so-called scandal resulted from the IRS being overwhelmed with new applications for tax exempt status. They were unable to process all the applications using their normal evaluation process, so they started giving many groups approval with less scrutiny than usual, and used certain key words (which they, reasonably enough, took to be good indicators that the groups were political in nature and therefore would not qualify for the tax exemption) to determine which groups would get the normal level of scrutiny. It wasn't just right wing groups that were "targeted" for normal levels of scrutiny in their evaluation process, it was any group deemed likely to be political in nature—left, right or center—based on these key word searches. It changes the picture on this ridiculous "scandal" quite radically when these details are introduced, doesn't it? Funny how these crucial bits of information got lost in the corporate media frenzy over this. And very curious indeed to see Obama cave in to the howling right wing mobs, even though they knew of course the administration would have full knowledge of these details, and had ample opportunity to lay them out for the public and defuse the whole absurd charade.
—Steve Lipson

Of course the IRS scandal is political! We should have listened to FDR who was against public sector unions because it puts another barrier between the taxpayers and the government class. Public sector unions create an atmosphere for this type of scandal. Many IRS workers are part of the National Treasury Employees Union who contribute mainly to Democrats. Although the higher level leaders at the IRS may not be members of NTEU, they tend to support Democrats and other advocates of big government to perpetuate their agency’s power. Since Conservative groups tend to favor the reduction of big government, certain IRS individuals acted improperly, immorally and most likely illegally.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.

The most transparent administration ever? Ha! What a joke. IMHO, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
—Frank Gerham Jr., Westminster Financial, LLC

The House and Senate have been after the IRS to increase its attention to requests for tax exemptions. This pressure is put on to any applicant. The IRS followed this pressure. I doubt that any IRS employees would gamble their jobs for partisan reasons. Of course, the Republicans are now trying to put the blame on the IRS and the president. Good politics, but bad governing. Who checked if the applications were not properly filled out and the proper responses given? Who knows if the Tea Party applicants did not mess this up to provide the scandal? The same argument can be brought up for any applicant. I think that the whole “scandal” is a storm in the teapot. Instead, the whole affair should be checked out without hurting innocent bystanders. Re-applications to the IRS by the complaining people might be a good start to protect those who were not turned down.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting

5/31/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 


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