Sunday's New York Times editorial page came once again to the defense of the poor, hobbled (and scandal-plagued) Internal Revenue Service against the depredations of congressional conservatives: "The Dangerous Erosion of Taxation -- I.R.S., Already Hobbled, Likely to Be Further Damaged."
The obsession among House conservatives to hobble the Internal Revenue Service is about to pay off this tax season in foolhardy budget cuts to the agency that will cost the government an estimated $2 billion in lost revenue.
That works out to about $6 in lost taxes for every $1 in cuts Congress made in reducing the I.R.S. budget another 3 percent this year, according to the Treasury Department.
The slashed budget is a victory for penny-wise-and-pound-foolish politicians. It amounts to payback demanded by House Republicans to penalize the I.R.S. for daring to scrutinize Tea Party operations that tried to claim exemptions under the tax code for nonpolitical groups. Democratic groups trying the same thing were also scrutinized.
Just as it did when the scandal broke, the Times on Sunday dismissed the thuggish behavior of the IRS toward the Tea Party during a presidential election year, even suggesting the IRS was wholly innocent of unfair targeting, because "Democratic groups....were also scrutinized." But contra the paper's weasel-wording, the IRS's scrutiny of incoming applications for non-profit groups was devoted almost wholly to Tea Party groups.
The Times has never taken the IRS targeting of the Tea Party seriously. A May 2013 front-page Times story was topped with what even liberal journalists found a bizarre headline: "IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On." As if intimidation of citizens by the IRS was not newsworthy in itself.
A day before that headline, the IRS had apologized to Tea Party groups for targeting them with intrusive audits related to their applications for non-profit status. Yet the Times had applauded such behavior in a March 2012 editorial.
Taxpayers should be encouraged by complaints from Tea Party chapters applying for nonprofit tax status at being asked by the Internal Revenue Service to prove they are “social welfare” organizations and not the political activists they so obviously are.
Tea Party supporters claim they are being politically harassed with extensive I.R.S. questionnaires. But the service properly contends that it must ensure that these groups are “primarily” engaged in social welfare, not political campaigning, to merit tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.
It must have been a dream come true for the Times, which had long begged the IRS to investigate conservative nonprofit advocacy groups, as reporter Michael Luo did in October 2010: "....several Republican-leaning nonprofit advocacy organizations, in particular, have begun over the last month to be more aggressive in their approach, explicitly asking for voters to cast their ballots for or against candidates. It remains to be seen whether the I.R.S. or the elections commission will scrutinize their actions more closely."