The IRS Story Keeps Getting Worse

Commentary Magazine

The liberal line about the IRS and other administration scandals in the last week has been that even if there was some low-level wrongdoing, an American public that is worried about the economy isn’t really interested in any of it. They are convinced that the only people willing to connect the dots between the demonization of the Tea Party by President Obama and the liberal press and the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups are Republican partisans. As Seth wrote on Friday, Democratic complacence is based on the idea that Republicans are overreacting to the current scandals in much the same manner that they oversold the Monica Lewinsky affair in 1998. But the revelation of two new angles to the IRS story in recent days shows that contrary to the hopes of Democrats, it is not only not dying down but could get worse.

By now, just about everyone has seen the videos of IRS employees line dancing at a conference paid for by taxpayers. The videos, like another bizarre IRS project previously discovered in which government employees acted out “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island” parodies, illustrates an agency that is out of control and unaccountable in the way it wastes the money that it so zealously collects from the public.

But just as hard to explain is the news first reported on Friday by the Daily Caller that the wife of the IRS commissioner on whose watch the targeting of conservatives occurred is a senior official of a Washington group that has advocated for this kind of discriminatory scrutiny. One of the top talking points for liberals about the IRS has been to point out that former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman was appointed to his office by President George W. Bush, therefore lending a bipartisan gloss to the problem. But now it seems as if what was going on during Shulman’s frequent trips to the Obama White House isn’t the only question about his conduct that needs answering.

The spectacle of America’s tax inquisitors making fools of themselves at expensive conferences paid for by the government is the sort of thing that most Americans can’t understand. It will ensure that Congress will continue to go over every aspect of IRS behavior with a fine-toothed comb. The administration may have thought it could confine the scrutiny of the agency to just a few rogue employees in the Cincinnati office, but that boat has sailed.

The news about Shulman’s liberal connections makes it impossible to go on arguing that the targeting happened while the IRS was run by a partisan Republican. Shulman donated money to the Democratic National Committee in 2004 and his wife Susan L. Anderson is the senior program advisor for Public Campaign, a liberal group that sought to prevent conservatives from getting nonprofit status. As reported, her Twitter feed was an ongoing Obama campaign ad.

While the administration’s defenders will claim that this is either a coincidence or simply unconnected to the misconduct within the agency run by Anderson’s husband, it is getting harder and harder to maintain the idea that what happened there was completely disconnected from the political preferences of the White House and liberal groups.

The bottom line here is that the IRS has been revealed to be a branch of the government that acted as if there was no accountability for its waste of resources or its willingness to play partisan politics. This story is about more than just undermining the liberal belief in big government. Shulman’s arrogant refusal to answer questions when hauled in front of the House Oversight Committee was not the end of the story. The more we learn about him, his subordinate Lois Lerner (who previously targeted conservatives while at the Federal Elections Commission) and the rest of the crew there, as well as the fact that donors to conservative groups were also subjected to unfair scrutiny by the government, the more it becomes necessary to dig deeper to find the answer to the question of who ordered the targeting and why they did it.

Far from Republicans overplaying their hand on this issue, we may have only just scratched the surface of misconduct. The time to connect the dots between White House policies and IRS lawbreaking may not be far off.