There’s a question that’s useful when trying to decide whether a course of action is a good idea: If the worst possible outcome occurs, how will this look in the newspaper (or on a mobile news platform)?
Asking that question could have saved Internal Revenue Service agents in the Cincinnati Determinations Unit a lot of trouble. There’s no way to defend their targeting of groups applying for tax-exempt status using names that indicated a conservative bent. Some of those organizations, whose names included phrases like “tea party” and “patriot,” waited years to hear back about their applications. Agents also asked improper questions about their activities and membership, according to a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
They approved about 70 percent of those applications - some of them tea party groups — after an initial review. But the local unit had the bad idea to set aside some applications that included the conservative terms….
This is wrong, and it was wrong for managers to allow the practice to continue. They cannot ask for the names of donors, whether officers intend to run for political office, and a handful of other questions and requests that IRS employees routinely sent out….
There are lessons to be learned from this scandal, but the current political posturing over it threatens to overshadow anything useful we could take from it. Once the furor dies down, we’d like to see clarity on how much political activity is permissible for tax-exempt groups.
— Distributed by The Associated Press