The IRS harassment of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status could damage President Barack Obama’s second term legislative agenda, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said Monday.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on the IRS matter, the Lehigh Valley Republican and member of the committee said the appearance that the IRS misdeeds were politically motivated may poison the already well of sparse congressional goodwill.
“I certainly would hate to see us unable to make progress where it’s important to make progress,” Toomey told a conference call of Pennsylvania journalists. “But I have to tell you, the legislative process does require trust and the process of reaching an agreement requires mutual trust and you have an administration plagued with scandals, it does make it more difficult. My hope is the president would handle this properly.”
Toomey said he had not been contacted by any conservative groups in Pennsylvania that were subjected to greater IRS scrutiny — The Patriot-News found three. But he noted that the IRS’ abuse of power “appears to be politically motivated,” could “have a chilling affect on the ability of conservatives groups to raise money,” and almost certainly affected the 2012 election.
“Nobody should be under the illusion that this is some kind of innocuous screening,” he said. “This was done with the intent, and in fact the result, of long delays.”
Such delays in granting tax exempt status, he said, prompted many conservative groups to give up on the process.
And where initial inquiries into the IRS’ actions did not indicate specific responsibility, Toomey said he hoped the committee would ferret out the names of the administrators who called for the specialized treatment.
“The Inspector General’s report doesn’t specify who initiated the first round of screenings, nor who authorized the resumption of screenings,” he said. “But we ought to know who authorized the IRS to begin screening conservative groups as they sought an application for tax exempt status.”
Keying on the IRS scandal could help Toomey, a one-time tea party darling, mend fences with Pennsylvania conservatives still angry about his bipartisan efforts to broaden gun purchase background checks. But, Toomey noted, the matter transcends party affiliation.
“I know there have been Democrats, as well as Republicans, who have quite rightly expressed outrage that the IRS was using political ideology to discriminate against Americans,” he said. “This should not be a partisan concern. Every American should be concerned. I would be equally distressed if the IRS was doing this to liberal organizations.”