Sunday, May 19, 2013

incompetence, not conspiracy

The IRS controversy over tax exempt organizations illustrates a point I often make about foreign policy: when you suspect a conspiracy, look first for incompetence. The Benghazi talking points emails revealed bureaucratic in-fighting, not a political coverup. The same appears true of the IRS.

The New York Times has a long piece showing how inundated the Cincinnati office was with requests to have 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 tax status, propelled not only by a Citizens United case allowing political groups but also by a small change in the law regarding purely charitable organizations that required some re-filings.

The overworked bureaucrats struggled to handle the paperwork -- and it was mostly on paper, making the process even messier. And they made politically embarrassing mistakes, for which two Bush-appointed offiicials have now paid with their jobs. I can understand the GOP yearning for scandals, but I wish they'd show a little mercy for the civil servants.

Another irony in this case is that the really suspect organizations that have huge political operations were able to avoid the backlog because they had clever tax lawyers helping them.

Furthermore, Tea Party groups did themselves no favors by filling out the applications in an amateurish manner, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for the New York Times and columnist at David Cay Johnston. “It’s like applying for a mortgage,” Johnston told Salon. “If you write it out wrong, you’re going to get flagged. And there are examples of these groups saying they’re not political and then saying their goal is to influence legislation.”

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