The Internal Revenue Service is being criticized for giving special scrutiny to groups critical of the government during the past two years, including groups with the words “tea party” and “patriot” in their names. The practices were revealed in an internal audit:

The documents, obtained by The Washington Post from a congressional aide with knowledge of the findings, show that the IRS field office in charge of evaluating applications for tax-exempt status decided to focus on groups making statements that “criticize how the country is being run” and those that were involved in educating Americans “on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.” (Read the full article here.)

Speaking at a news conference today, President Obama called on the IRS to maintain its neutrality:

“If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on … then that’s outrageous, and there’s no place for it. They have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity.”

Other Democrats have also objected, although that hasn’t mollified conservatives, including Post opinion writer Ed Rogers:

In a press conference Monday, President Obama addressed the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of groups critical of government, and said, “I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it.” (The Washington Post)

Obama doesn’t need a traditional Nixonian enemies list. In the digital age, with the Obama machine’s much-celebrated technological capabilities, the president can sort his enemies by keywords. Incredible.

I wonder if “patriotic” was also on the list of enemy words. Well, we’ll find out soon. Investigations, leaks, whistleblowers, etc., will disclose the name of every group that the Obama IRS targeted for special harassment. We will eventually know who knew what and when they knew it. This is likely to be very corrosive for the president’s political standing both here and abroad.

Vladimir Putin is probably jealous of Obama. He and others like him will hardly be able to hide their smiles when they hear the United States preach about the need to let political organizations function freely. What lessons should the Muslim Brotherhood learn from what the Obama IRS has done? (Read the rest here.)

Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan write that the agency’s actions will prove very embarrassing for Democrats. Wonkblog observes that the report points to a deeper problem with how the tax code treats not-for-profit organizations in the 501(c)4 classification:

A lot of the politicized groups attempting to register as 501(c)4s were describing their purpose in tea party terms. A popular conceit, for instance, was that they existed to educate on the Constitution — even if the particular pedagogical method meant participating in Republican Party primaries and pressuring incumbent politicians.

The IRS is supposed to reject groups that are primarily political from registering as 501(c)4s. If they’re going to do that, then they need some kind of test that helps them flag problematic applicants. And that test will have to be a bit impressionistic. It will mean taking the political rhetoric of the moment and watching for it in applications. It will require digging into the finances and activities of groups on the left and the right that seem to be political even as they’re promising their activities are primarily non-political.

If we’re not comfortable with that, then we need to either loosen the definition of 501(c)4s or create a new designation that gives explicitly political groups the benefits of the 501(c)4s (namely, they don’t have to pay taxes and they can keep their donors anonymous).

For more from Wonkblog on the IRS and political 501(c)4 groups, continue reading here.

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.