IRS wrongdoing threatens to become a major issue for Democrats

May 13, 2013

The situation surrounding the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups worsened over the weekend with a series of revelations that suggest it could grow into a major political problem for Democrats over the coming months.


The IRS.

"Politicizing the IRS was one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon," noted Doug Schoen, who handles polling for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "That being said, we are still a very long way from that point." But, Schoen added: "The allegations are very, very serious, and it is simply impossible to believe that it was just Lois Lerner and some low-level employees in Cincinnati who came up with this scheme to systematically focus on Tea Party and 'patriot' groups."

Here's a quick summary of what we learned this weekend:

* It wasn't just groups with the words "tea party" or "patriot"  that were flagged for extra scrutiny, but also groups that criticized the government or sought to educate people about the Constitution, according to an audit requested by the inspector general for the IRS.

* Lerner, the head of the tax-exempt division at the IRS, was made aware of the targeting of conservative groups in June 2011.

* The Cincinnati office was not filled with low-level apparatchiks. It was the division specifically tasked with evaluating applications for such nonprofit groups.

If Republicans were angry about the IRS story when it broke on Friday, they were downright outraged by the end of the weekend. Maine Sen. Susan Collins -- a moderate if ever there was one in the current Senate -- called the IRS targeting of conservative groups "absolutely chilling."  House Republicans promised hearings and a broader investigation.

What became clear in the first 72 hours of the story was that this (a) wasn't an isolated, dumb incident by some random field office, (b) was something high-level officials were aware of, and (c) was going to be in the news cycle for quite some time.

The problem for Democrats is that the IRS's targeting of conservatives plays directly into a long-held belief by many Republicans (and even some independents) that official government arms are being used to carry out political agendas.

"Any political scandal that begins by validating previously held contentions of a political opposition is bound to be trouble," said one senior Senate GOP operative. "When it includes denials that have been proven false, it gets much worse." Acknowledged a longtime Democratic congressional hand: "This just feeds the right-wing paranoia that the government is out to get them. On top of Benghazi hearings and e-mails, not a good week for the [Obama] administration."

Expect the IRS story to move forward on two fronts: one congressional, the other political. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is already promising a House investigation into who knew what and when as it relates to the IRS actions. And expect Republicans in and out of office to pick up on the IRS's admission on the campaign trail as they try to tie their Democratic opponents to the unsavory nature of the tax collecting agency's actions.

"For Republicans, this will be the gift that keeps on giving," predicted Todd Harris, a Republican consultant and an adviser to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. "There won’t be a GOP campaign in the country that doesn’t use this to raise money."

Fixbits:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) suggested Republicans are targeting Hillary Clinton on Benghazi with an eye on 2016.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) believes "more whistleblowers" are forthcoming on Benghazi.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and two House Democrats who are veterans of the Iraq war on Sunday called for military sexual assault cases to be reviewed outside the chain of command.

President Obama applauded law-enforcement officers on Saturday and pitched gun control.

An internal poll conducted for Massachusetts Republican Senate nominee Gabriel Gomez shows him in a close race with Rep. Ed Markey (D).

The Republican National Committee is inviting party pollsters to its headquarters this week.

Barbara Walters is getting set to retire from TV journalism.

Must-reads:

"IRS targeted groups critical of government, documents from agency probe show" -- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

"Will Obama suffer the ‘second-term curse’?" -- Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker, Washington Post

"Green card lottery, a ticket to hope for many, could be eliminated" -- Pamela Constable, Washington Post

 

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Sean Sullivan · May 12, 2013