Sunday, May 19, 2013

IRS Scandal - Much Ado About Not Very Much At All

After the mob hysteria driven trial by conservatives and media which condemned President Obama for crimes ranging from bungling ineptitude to deliberate lying and conspiracy against the Tea Party, some facts are finally emerging. What was originally painted as a crime committed by prejudiced IRS officials with a political agenda now seems to be a less sinister problem: a generally dysfunctional IRS and an understaffed Cincinnati Determinations Unit that was deluged and not properly instructed.

The nytimes.com reports today that the US tax code has 4 million words. This code is administered by less than 200 Cincinnati staff dealing with 70,000 exemption applications a year.  Generally, very few groups with political affiliations even apply for exemption, so the staff had little experience.

Then in 2010 a Supreme Court decision allowed unions and corporations to spend some money on political campaigns. They could now register as social welfare nonprofit groups and could engage in some electioneering without revealing the source of donors. The office was flooded with applications. It's normal for the IRS to be on the lookout for organizations and individuals trying to exploit loopholes. And normally, those who do engage in political activity are looked at to see that they haven't stepped over the limit.

When the number of those applications increased exponentially, staff tried to find an efficient way to process them. Their dragnet didn't just target conservatives or Tea Party members, although they seem to have been the majority. Maybe that's because they were the majority of applicants.

A picture has been painted of overzealous liberals working undercover in the Cincinnati office, targeting opposition to Barack Obama. It's made for great headlines, and given Republicans much to capitalize on, but it seems to be far from the truth. The reality is less dramatic and a whole lot less sinister.

Human beings in a difficult job, not properly overseen, overloaded, overworked, trying to create a system that would allow them to get through a deluge of applications that they had no frame of reference for. They decided on an IRS precedent that was generally accepted. It had nothing to do with politics. Which is proved by the fact other groups also had problems with their applications. Liberal group Progress Texas had to wait 479 days to get their exemption and had to go through exactly the same gruelling process as any Tea Party members.