American Elephants

The Tangled Web of “So-Called Scandals” by The Elephant's Child

In theory, Democrats should be as disturbed by the IRS scandal as Republicans. Yes, most of the IRS politicized tax enforcement was directed at the Tea Party, anything with names like “patriot” or “liberty” or “freedom,” “Constitution,” nefarious names that clearly indicate right-wing extremism, for quite obviously if Republicans regain a majority, there’s tit for tat, or turnabout’s fair play or plain old “payback,” not that they would, but they might. Democrats are more concerned with the immediacy of the attacks on the Obama administration, which cannot, by definition, do anything wrong.

We have the “so-called scandals” which just deny the whole thing, but that’s not likely to work, so they have switched to the concept that the real IRS scandal is the use by conservatives of 501(c) tax status as a shield for political advocacy. The 501 (c) designation is supposed to be, they say, for “social welfare,” not anything “partisan.”

Professor Richard Epstein points out that the criteria for Section 501 (c)(4) organizations are open-ended. Few complex organizations are operated exclusively for any single purpose, and many applicants have different ideas of what counts as “social welfare.”So you have loose standards and thousands of applications.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administrations reported on May 14 that the Exempt Office of the IRS actions were not politically biased, but were attributable to the confusion of lower staff members who for three years, had never quite understood their job assignments. This is what we politely called, in my childhood, “road apples.” The delays and nitpicking questions were specifically designed to hold off approval until after the November 2012 elections.

Epstein says that the larger disease of which IRS misbehavior is only a symptom, is something that has taken root in many of the major administrative agencies in the United States — permit power.

Private individuals are not allowed to engage in certain activities or to claim certain benefits without the approval of some major government agency. The standards for approval are nebulous at best, which makes it hard for any outside reviewer to overturn the agency’s decision on a particular application.

That power also gives the agency discretion to drag out its review, since few individuals or groups are foolhardy enough to jump the gun and set up shop without obtaining the necessary approvals first. It takes literally a few minutes for a skilled government administrator to demand information that costs millions of dollars to collect and that can tie up a project for years. That delay becomes even longer for projects that need approval from multiple agencies at the federal or state level, or both.

Professor Epstein offers the mission statement of the FDA as an example” “The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics and products that emit radiation.” Absolutes are unattainable, and there is a whole universe of gray area there. How safe is safe enough, how deadly are side effects, how many trials are needed. The mission statement allows the agency to slow down, for years, any approval or disapproval.

501(c)(3) organizations are barred from partisan campaign activities. Media Matters for America, a left-wing agitprop organization uses that cover for its daily attacks on conservatives. The Center for American Progress, which was supposed to be the left-wing think tank to match the Heritage Foundation has both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) designations and has never had so much as a non-partisan thought pretty much demolishes the “social welfare” argument. Under the 501(c)(4) designation, organized labor had spent, as reported by the Journal in July 2012 $4.4 billion on politics and lobbying since 2005, mostly funded by union dues. Democrats always include a carve-out for unions in their proposals to require disclosure of political spending, and demonstrates why they are so furious about the Supreme Court Citizens United decision.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

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