Reporting on Politics and Policy
The IRS Asked a Pro-Life Group to Explain Its Prayers Outside Planned Parenthood, Which is Now a Scandal
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 6:09 PM
Chris Moody followed up on one of the next-wave conservative outrages over the IRS in the Obama years. It sounds incredible: In 2009, when the Coalition for Life of Iowa asked for tax exemption, the IRS's follow-up letter asked them about their prayers.
Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3). Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organizations spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization.
Like I said, incredible -- which when you think about it tells you how quickly the Overton Window has shifted. If you read the document trove, CFLOI ended up handing the feds documentation on stem cells, on the viability of life in the womb, etc. The IRS accepted this; the group got tax-exempt status. The scandal, obviously, is that there's something inherently evil about inquiring into the "content of prayers." But the agency was easily satisfied. The point of the story isn't that Christianity is being oppressed in America. The point is similar to that of "Pulpit Freedom Day," an annual nationwide campaign to get churchs to allow political sermons, and publicize them, and dare the IRS to step in and experience blowback.
The blowback is here. We will hear more stories like this, as long as people are primed for outrage.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 3:52 PM
When we left Phelim McAleer, the pro-fracking filmmaker who keeps critiquing Josh Fox's Gasland and winning conservative fans, he was promoting his own film and earning an exasperated diss. "They're the birthers of fracking," Fox told me. Since then, McAleer filmed as a few fracking supporters tried, and failed, to gain (ticketed!) entry into a Gasland 2 screening.
McAleer had long wondered whether Gasland 2 would ever be released, speculating that HBO had cooled on it. But no: HBO will run Fox's sequel on July 8. In response, Mark Cuban's AXS has scheduled a July 9 showing of McAleer's FrackNation, in the hops of setting up a media battle about the Fracking Truth. (I think I'm engaging or enabling in the battle by pointing this out.) The natural gas industry was spooked and surprised by Gasland, which defined public opinion of fracking before they'd figured out a way to popularize it. This time, they want to updgrade from PR disaster to debate about the real facts, with both sides represented on panels.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 2:48 PM
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
By general acclamation, the greatest Moment from today's battering of the IRS (with an assist from the bored, doomed outgoing acting commissioner) came when Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly went buck wild. After pressuring the witness a few times and getting non-answers, Kelly finally just went on a tirade about the IRS, the "monster under the bed," the force that terrifies hard-working Americans. When he finished, Kelly earned spontaneous applause from the public seats. (Some Tea Party activists had lined up to get those seats.)
Kelly was an emblematic member of the 2010 Tea Party freshman class. Aged 62 when he won—the oldest of the freshmen—Kelly ran because he ran a Chevy dealership and got intimate with the hand of government. In a fine 2010 profile, Phil Rucker tailed Kelly around D.C. and around his district, and asked him who in the Capitol impressed him. His answer was "nobody."
I hope I don't sound arrogant about this, but at 62 years old, I've pretty much seen what I need to see. There've been times when I didn't even take a paycheck out of here for six months. There've been times I cashed in my pension to put money back in the shop. There've been times I mortgaged my home to keep this business alive. I've been to the edge of the abyss and looked in and there's nobody there to help you - nobody there.
Once in Congress, Kelly became a pretty reliable team player. In one of the dark stretches of the 2011 debt limit fight, it was Kelly who brought Notre Dame slogans to a House Republican meeting and urged colleagues to vote for the leadership's preferred compromise—to, in his words, "knock the shit out of 'em."
He may play that role again during the next tussle over whether to hold fast on spending or pass a compromise. For now, his extremely telegenic outrage demonstrates how Republicans have been brought together by this scandal.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 1:36 PM
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
On Tuesday I made the not-entirely-daring assertion that a stream of White House Scandals would nudge along one of the White House's legislative priorities. Republicans who wanted an immigration compromise wanted it for some reasons of self-preservation. To be really secure, they needed to work without their base accusing them of selling out. Their jobs would be much easier if, while they worked, there was a simultaneous scandal that they could blast the Obama administration over.
I saw this firsthand in Arizona recently, when an audience at a McCain town hall alternated between angry immigration questions and angry Benghazi questions. “What has helped me back home is that people remember the Lindsey from impeachment, they remember the guy who was leading the charge on conservative caucuses,” Graham told Politico last week. “[Benghazi] and the second amendment stuff, that’s where I can throw a punch.”
And here we are. Eight House Republicans had been hashing out their own version of an omnibus immigration bill. Its health was looking poor. But yesterday, while the rest of us were distracted, they "agreed to disagree" on some details about E-Verify and health care and move ahead on a plan. Could that have been possible if they'd been driving the week? Without the Obama scandals, the story of Thursday would have been that of a Bipartisan Group Handing Barack Obama a Possible Victory.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 11:23 AM
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The special election for Senate in Massachusetts has become a petri dish of Soccer Injury Politics—the calculated fakery of pain, meant to get the refs to stop the game and stop anybody attacking you. Here's the pattern:
1) Republicans attack Ed Markey, the Democrat who's been in Congress since the 1970s, for something he did or didn't do.
2) Markey attacks Gabriel Gomez, the GOP novice with the golden resume (Navy SEAL-businessman-father-patriot), for something he did, in fact, do.
3) Gomez calls for the ref, accusing Markey of a fiendish smear on his character and patriotism.
This week, for example, began with the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacking Markey for nixing a Confederate Flag defender from a campaign event. On May 14, the Boston Globe reported that Markey was fundraising in D.C. but had asked Dukes of Hazzard star Ben "Cooter" Jones (a former congressman) not to come "after learning of Jones’s ringing defense of the Confederate flag." The NRSC blasted the story out to reporters with the headline Democrat Ed Markey caught in Confederate flag problem back home at his DC fundraiser—which was one way of putting it, I guess, but didn't really get across that Markey's problem was that he'd told Jones to skip the event. When I hear "Confederate flag problem," I think of someone defending the flag and pissing off his voters. Don't you?
Anyway: On May 16, the NRSC tried another tack and attempted to tie Markey to scandals. All of the scandals. An NRSC missive to the press (which not many people picked up on) was titled: "ScandalizED Markey’s Washington: A Boozy Affair Chalk Full of Scandals, Fueled by Special Interest Money, Where the Party Never Ends." Boozy! Scandals! And yet the release was just a list of scandals not related to Markey, but that had happened while Markey was in Congress, like the Anthony Weiner scandal. (I mention that because the NRSC missed a chance to knock Markey on his proud credit-taking for smartphone innovation—he paved the way for Weiner's destruction!)
That takes us to today. Markey releases a contrast ad: He's for lots of gun restrictions that play well in Massachussetts, and Gomez isn't.
Within minutes, Gomez called for the ref:
Really, reader: Did you see that ad and think, "they're blaming this guy Gomez for the Newtown shootings?" The ad didn't even use footage from Newtown, opting for some stock photos of bullets. Yet Gomez was joined on the field by NRSC communications director Brad Dayspring. Read this in your best Nancy Grace impersonation:
Ed Markey first compared Gabriel Gomez, former navy SEAL and father of four children, to Osama Bin Laden and now Markey is blaming him for horrific murders in Newtown. It’s disgusting, deplorable and desperate, but that’s par for the course for Ed Markey who will do just about anything to avoid talking about the issues that voters care about.
Who's the audience for this? I cover politics, and I don't believe for a second that Gomez is constantly offended by everything Markey's ads say about him. Republicans are obviously trying to build the narrative that Gomez is a stolid public servant who's above all those Washington games that people in Washington play. But it's a little on the nose. You can't call out your opponent as often as Gomez calls out Markey, then do this when he mentions your actual issue stances.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 9:43 AM
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
My new story on this Time of Scandal delves into the history of politics and tax-exempt groups. Until very recently—by which I mean "until last week"—both parties seethed at the outrage of obviously political groups getting tax exemption and then playing in the public sphere with secret donor cash.
“Once they force you into this funnel to have that legal status,” said Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, “then you're hassled and abused.”
But a lot of activists want or need to jump into that funnel. For that reason, said Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, “The IRS needs to be nonpartisan.”
Be nonpartisan, sure—but how?
“They need to look at any group that qualifies for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) status and give it to him.”
There's also an irony running through the last two days of Tea Party complaints about the hassling from the IRS. You hear that the scrutiny, by slowing down the groups' activities, affected the 2012 election. It's just assumed that these social welfare groups were going to have a political impact, and that's normal.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 8:24 AM
Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images
As Toronto Mayor Rob Ford deals with a video tape purportedly showing him smoking crack and using slurs, it's a fun time to revisit Vice's look at his inability to look sane on camera.
Carol Leonnig walks through the FBI's investigation of an apparent smear against Sen. Bob Menendez. My main vice as a reporter is being a little too understanding of politicians; this is maybe the one case where my disbelief paid off.
Alec MacGillis cautions against blaming all of liberalism for the IRS scandal.
Monica Potts actually covers how government spending and cuts affect people. Hasn't she heard? There's a scandal going on!
Mike Bloomberg's group gives Jeff Flake the Kelly Ayotte treatement:
Watch the constellation of pro-gun groups that defended Ayotte in New Hampshire. See if they discover Arizona.
Correction, May 17, 2013: This post originally misspelled Carol Leonnig's last name.
IRS Commissioner of Non-Profits During Scandal Years Now Runs IRS Affordable Care Act Office, Of Course
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 7:39 PM
Inspired by ABC News, a drama in three acts.
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman has selected Sarah Hall Ingram to succeed Steven T. Miller (who will become Commissioner, LMSB, which oversees tax administrations for the largest corporations and partnerships in the U.S.) as the commissioner of the Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division of the IRS.
From May 14, 2013:
Joseph Grant, the acting commissioner of tax exempt and government entities, wrote in response to the report that the decisions were made in an attempt to increase efficiency, not to target groups with a particular political view.
"The mistakes outlined in the report resulted from the lack of a set process for working the increase in advocacy cases and insufficient sensitivity to the implications of some of the decisions made," he wrote.
Whatever happened to Sarah Hall Ingram? We have to go back in time for the third act, to March 29, 2013:
MEMORANDUM FOR ACTING DEPUTY INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR AUDIT
FROM: Sarah Hall Ingram /s/ Sarah Hall Ingram
Director, Affordable Care Act Office
Of course. Two funny things about this story. One: It took six days for a media organization to notice what happened to the commissioner of the tax exempt division who'd been around at the start of the 2010-2012 "BOLO" period. Two: It took three reporters.
Can you blame the Fourth Estate, though? The "Affordable Care Act Office" isn't listed on the IRS's web site, or on its org chart. Also, the IG report on the whole affair makes no mention of Ingram. According to the report, it was "around March 1, 2010" that "the Determinations Unit Group Manager asked a specialist to search for other Tea Party or similar organizations’ applications in order to determine the scope of the issue." The report doesn't have any decision rising to the commissioner's level at all. But we know that multi-page letters with questions that Tea Partiers found invasive started going out to groups in early 2012. Ingram was testifying before Congress in her capacity as commissioner of tax-exempt/non-profit organizations as late as May 2012.
If you're in a forgiving sort of mood, Ingram's move to the Health Care office made sense, because the non-profit office had been tangled up in issues related to non-profit hospitals already. But who's in a forgiving mood these days?
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 4:23 PM
I'm a little late to a development in #Benghazi. Ryan Lizza might have already written everything that needed to be written about it, with some verve, as a reporter who profiled Darrell Issa in the days when he was merely the future House Oversight chairman. But it's been a day since everyone's been able to read the unredacted portions of the State-White House-CIA round robin of Benghazi talking points edits. Tomorrow, it'll be a weak since the ABC News story by Jon Karl that included these grafs.
In an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. — three days after the attack and two days before Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows – Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email saying the State Department’s concerns needed to be addressed.
“We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”
That read like a verbatim quote. It took four days for Jake Tapper to obtain an e-mail that read very differently.
In the e-mail sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 9:34 p.m., obtained by CNN from a U.S. government source, Rhodes wrote:
“Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
“There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
“We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”
These were, as Jay Carney might say, more than cosmetic changes. In the real email (we've seen that email, the Tapper version, in the WH doc dump), there are no mentons of "talking points," and there's no specific mention of the State department. What went wrong? According to Karl, "the source was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails. The White House has refused multiple requests – from journalists, including myself, and from Republican leaders in Congress – to release the full e-mail exchanges."
It's unbecoming to demand that a reporter release his source. But who was looking at the e-mails yet "not permitted to make copies?" Why, Republican investigators in the House. They complained about this, with Darrell Issa saying Republicans were only allowed to see disorganized collections of e-mails for a few hours a day. Occam's razor: The source leaking versions of Benghazi talking points to reporters was a Republican investigator with a tacit interest in raking the administration over the coals. This was the third megascandal, after Solyndra and Fast and Furious, that Republicans fueled by accusing the administration of stone-walling, of not providing the right documents. This time, the demand boomeranged and smacked them in the face.
Another Court Strikes Down Obama's Recess Appointments Because "Partisan Confirmation Obstruction Payback" Doesn't Move It
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 2:08 PM
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
If it's Thursday, another circuit court has struck down an Obama recess appointee's decision by declaring his appointment invalid. The latest instance comes from the Third Circuit (Delaware/New Jersey/Pennsylvania), which has ruled against Obama's National Labor Relations Board on the grounds that "Member [Craig] Becker was invalidly recess appointed to the Board during the March 2010 intrasession break. This means that the delegee group had fewer than three members when it issued the August 26 Order." Two Republican appointees went that way; an Obama appointee wrote the dissent.
Here's how the majority dealt with the issue that started the recess appointment micro-crisis. Obama wasn't getting votes on nominees; the GOP House was refusing to actually recess.
The Board's more open-ended definition of recess might very well be unmanageable because it does not rely on any particular Senate procedure and would require judicial "explor[ation] [of] communications between the Senate Minority and the president" in addition to review of the "scheduling schemes of the Senate Minority and House Majority." ... But this only cautions against selecting the Board's standard rather than showing that there are no judicially manageable standards available.
Of course, if the question is framed—as the amicus has—as a need to derive a judicially manageable standard to resolve "the underlying cycles of partisanconfirmation obstruction payback which caused the NLRB vacancies," (Amicus Br. at 25), then there is likely no judicially manageable standard. See also Evans, 387 F.3d at 1227 (rejecting as nonjusticiable an argument that the president unconstitutionally used the recess appointment power because the appointee had been previously rejected by the Senate and thus constituted a circumvention of the Senate‘s advice and consent role). But that is not the question we face. Instead, we must define the phrase "the Recess of the Senate," which is a question distinct from resolving the "cycles of partisan confirmation obstruction payback."
Obama argues that the new level of obstruction is unprecedented; the court isn't moved.