Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, June 27, 2013 9:32 pm

Guess why the IRS only targeted Tea Party groups

Because Darrell Issa told it to, that’s why:

The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.

A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) “to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations.”The inspector general’s audit found that groups seeking tax-exempt status with “Tea Party” and “patriots” in their name did receive extra attention from the IRS, with some facing years of delay and inappropriate questions from the agency.

But top congressional Democrats have wielded new information from the IRS this week that liberal groups were also flagged for extra attention on the sorts of “be on the lookout” lists (BOLOs) that also tripped up conservative groups.

The spokesman for the Treasury inspector general noted their audit acknowledged there were other watch lists. But the spokesman added: “We did not review the use, disposition, purpose or content of the other BOLOs. That was outside the scope of our audit.”

The admission from the inspector general comes as Democrats have sharpened their criticism of George, with Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) dubbing the audit fundamentally flawed on Monday.

Levin, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, stressed to The Hill on Tuesday that the inspector general did not say the audit was limited to Tea Party groups when it was released in mid-May.

The Michigan Democrat also maintained that the audit’s shortcoming had emboldened Republicans to try to link the targeting of Tea Party groups to the White House.

“You need to get at the facts. And those facts weren’t given to us, even when asked,” Levin said. “The Republicans used the failure of the IG to spell out what they knew as an opportunity to totally politicize this.”

No. You can’t be serious. Darrell Issa politicize something? Issa withhold material information so as to propagate a falsehood widely? Never in a million years.

You know, I’ve been saying that to the best of my knowledge, which I’ll admit isn’t comprehensive, what went on at the IRS went on because of the disproportionately larger number of GOP-leaning tax-exempt groups created since Citizens United. Other people insisted, however, that the disproportionate focus on Tea Party groups meant this wasn’t accidental, that it was part of a conspiracy. Well, they were right and I was wrong. But I’m pretty sure a conspiracy originating with Darrell Issa wasn’t what they meant.

Now why, you ask, would as high a ranking GOP member as Issa do such a thing? I’ll tell you why. The Tea Party is basically indistinguishable from the wingnut GOP base. And while the GOP leadership is perfectly happy to use those rank-and-file people during elections, the only agenda item they really care about is hoovering more money upward to the rich. That’s all. Nothing else. The Tea Party people have a somewhat more complicated agenda, and for them to gain too much power in the party would mean interference with, or at least distraction from, the top agenda item.

So, if you’re a Tea Party member, remember this: Barack Obama didn’t sic the IRS on you. Darrell Issa did. And he did it because he wants your money, end of story. You vote however you want, but you need to be sure to take that fact into the voting booth with you when you do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 8:06 pm

Gerald Walpin and investigative independence

Fred has been asking me for some time to blog about Gerald Walpin, the AmeriCorps inspector general who was abruptly fired by the Obama White House after reporting that Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had misused AmeriCorps funds.

I’ve read things he has sent me as well as documents obtained by The Washington Post (which, I’ll quickly grant, may not paint the full picture). Here are my thoughts:

  • In the greater scheme of things, it’s a penny-ante case, and in the context of things like bricks of cash going missing in Iraq, to say nothing of torture and warrantless wiretapping and Goldman Sachs’ screwing of the American taxpayer, it’s therefore hard for me to care about this case in and of itself. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
  • Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m still not sure whether Walpin’s firing was merited. He clearly had a contentious relationship, at best, with his AmeriCorps overseers. At the least, it may have been an overreaction to an abrasive but honest and effective investigator; worse, it could have been an attempt to stifle a legitimate critic of someone close to the administration.
  • Questions of the merit of the firing aside, the way in which the firing happened appears not to have followed legally required procedure with respect to both notice and stated reason for the firing. This much, at least, definitely bothers me. I’m a big fan of due process.
  • In the bigger picture, which is where I start to get more interested, I’m also a big fan of independent oversight. Inspectors general need to be able to do their job without interference to serve the taxpayers’ interests, especially when there’s big money at stake. (They have a corresponding obligation to be not only thorough but also apolitical and dispassionate. They also need a sense of context and perspective. I don’t think Walpin’s behavior was political, but he appears to have had some trouble with the dispassionate part. The context and perspective issue is less clear. There may be room for reasonable people to disagree on that; otherwise, I’m pretty sure the U.S. attorney, like Walpin a Bush holdover, would have filed charges against Johnson.) There’s a bill, HR 885, that has passed the House and been sent to the Senate, that would make some IG positions appointable by the president and subject to Senate confirmation, rather than being appointed by the departments they’re supposed to oversee, as is now the case. Neither system is perfect. Presidential appointment would give the IG more independence, but if any problems are discovered that lead to the president, it creates a sticky wicket there, too. OTOH, these IGs could only be fired by the president, and any such firing likely would get a lot of attention, as Walpin’s has, so a president would need a very good reason and/or a very high tolerance for political criticism to fire an IG.
  • In the bigger picture still, we need more government oversight, not less. We’ve tried to get by with less for the past decade or so, and we see where that has gotten us — pooch-screwing in a large number of areas.

If Walpin was fired for no good reason, he should get his job back if he wants it. If he was fired for legitimate cause but not through appropriate procedure, then the appropriate procedure needs to be followed and he should get back pay through the new firing date. And in the bigger picture, we need people with the ability, willingness and independence to hold government accountable — past, present and future.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 7:30 pm

Your dollars mismanaged? Drop a dime.

The Special Inspector General of the $700 billion program aimed at keeping banks solvent has set up a whistleblower line for anyone who knows of misuse of money by banks receiving taxpayer dollars under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).

About time someone was looking out for my money in that deal. I just wish the government were doing more in that regard. Something like, “You don’t want to tell anyone how you’re using the money? Then we’ll just be taking it back, thankyouverymuch.”

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