No Scrutiny for the Tax Man

No Scrutiny for the Tax Man
by L. Brent Bozell III
February 13, 1997

In 1170, King Henry II asked of his followers "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" They responded by murdering Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Last November, Bill Clinton sounded a similar note in election-night remarks in Little Rock, as quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: "I'm going to devote a lot of my time in the next four years trying to cut the cancer out of American politics" to put an end to "the kind of systematic abuse so many people here have suffered."

Have his followers heeded the call, too? It has come to light that a dozen different conservative organizations have been targeted for IRS audits, including the Heritage Foundation, the National Rifle Association, Citizens Against Government Waste, Oliver North's Freedom Alliance, the Gingrich-connected Progress and Freedom Foundation and Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation, the National Center for Public Policy Research, the Western Journalism Center, and the conservative magazines National Review and The American Spectator. To dismiss this as sheer coincidence is to stretch the bounds of credulity. A story, for the mainstream "objective" news to investigate, then? Hardly.

Over the years, we've seen countless reports about Richard Nixon's abuse of the IRS to torment his enemies. Of lesser interest is the emerging documentation of JFK's similar proclivities. And now that a dozen anti-Clinton conservative groups find themselves on the receiving end of an IRS jihad, no one in the press even cares to ask if there's a political vendetta at work again. No one except Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough, that is, who's filed a series of interesting reports yet to be seen in prime time, but which deserve top billing on the evening news.

Scarborough's reports shed light on how the IRS targets its victims for scrutiny. In a letter to Rep. Charles Rangel, IRS Deputy Commissioner Michael Dolan said an audit "is based largely on issues raised in media reports and third-party communications."

What third-party communications? Heritage vice president Phil Truluck claims IRS agents began their audit after Democrats complained that Dole signed a Heritage fundraising letter. Citizens Against Government Waste also secured Dole's signature, also got the call from the IRS. The NRA came under investigation in June 1995, after Clinton and other liberals attacked them in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombings.

Others heard whispers of politics. Amy Moritz Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research said the agent investigating her group suggested it could be a "political complaint." The Western Journalism Center's Joseph Farah quoted an agent: "Look, this is a political case, and the decision about your tax-exempt status will made at the national level."

Scarborough uncovered how intimately congressional Democrats are informed about IRS audits of the opposition. He discovered that Rep. Rangel, the ranking Democrat overseeing the IRS, issued a press release inferring an audit of the Gingrich-connected Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation - weeks before the foundation's officials were notified of the audit. That's a potential felony of releasing confidential tax information.

Is the IRS trying to "cut out" Clinton's "cancer" of conservative groups? Certainly they don't need to revoke organizations' tax-exempt status to cause them pain: the NRA says the IRS audits are costing $1 million a year to handle. When asked about the allegations, oily Clinton flack Mike McCurry could only sneer the non-answer that "no credible news organization" had reported on the audits. That sort of shame-your-fellow-liberals approach has largely worked so far.

The suspicion of intentional targeting was best underlined when Scarborough surveyed comparable liberal nonprofits to count how many were being audited by the IRS. He could not find a single one. And that's not because liberal groups never cross the line into electioneering. The Los Angeles Times and Newsweek have revealed that White House heavy Harold Ickes and others were directing Democratic donors to 501(c)(3) nonprofit "nonpartisan" voter registration groups.

Vote Now '96 was run by Democratic money men in Miami. The National Coalition on Black Voter Participation's director, James Ferguson, told the Baltimore Sun last January his group "has targeted 83 House districts that African American voters can help elect Democrats - enough to wrest control of the House away from the GOP." Wait a minute. Isn't that exactly what the Democrats were accusing Newt Gingrich of doing? Oughtn't the pundits be asking: Where's Harold Ickes' $300,000 fine?

So let's get this straight. Conservative groups are being overrun by IRS auditors without any explanation of any charges of wrongdoing being levied, or where they may have originated, and that's not news. "Nonpartisan" liberal groups are ignoring IRS electioneering restrictions without fear, even bragging about it to the press, and the networks are speechless. Maybe it's that our network journalists don't have time for such trite matters since they're working on far more important issues. Like Food Lion, for example.