President Obama may have promised “to hold the responsible parties accountable” for the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative non-profit groups, but one of the agents at the center of the scandal was recently promoted, an IRS source tells The Washington Examiner.
Through 2012, then-Exempt Organization Specialist Stephen Seok signed many of the intimidating letters sent to conservative nonprofits. For example, this January 2012 letter sent to the Richmond Tea Party demanded the date, time and location of all group events, as well as copies of all handouts provided at the events, and the names and credentials of all organizers. Seok also demanded the names of all speakers and the contents of the speeches they made.
According to WXIX-TV/Fox 19 in Cincinnati, Seok is no longer an exempt organization specialist. He has since been promoted to “supervisor IRS agent.”
Contacted for comment on when and why Seok was promoted, the Cincinnati IRS office had no comment and referred all inquiries to the Washington office. The Washington office, when contacted, also refused comment on Seok’s promotion, citing the Privacy Act of 1974.
It appears some of the “rogue agents” in the Cincinnati office are being rewarded for targeting conservatives, not punished.
It wasn’t just the Tea Party: it has been widely reported that the IRS also has harassed and discriminated against pro-Israel charities, in particular those that support settlements in Judea and Samaria. In the Free Beacon, Alana Goodman pursues the story:
A Washington Free Beacon investigation has identified at least five pro-Israel organizations that have been audited by the IRS in the wake of a coordinated campaign by White House-allied activist groups in 2009 and 2010.
These organizations, some of which are too afraid of government reprisals to speak publicly, say in interviews with the Free Beacon that they now believe the IRS actions may have been coordinated by the Obama administration.
I missed it at the time, but there was a campaign by anti-Israel forces to deprive these charities of their tax-exempt status because their aims conflicted with Obama administration policies:
The media scrutiny began as early as March 26, 2009, when the Washington Post’s David Ignatius published a column questioning the groups’ tax-exempt status.
Ignatius’s column is here. Ignatius displayed a remarkable obtuseness with regard to the First Amendment:
For many years, the United States has had a policy against spending aid money to fund Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which successive administrations have regarded as an obstacle to peace. Yet private organizations in the United States continue to raise tax-exempt contributions for the very activities that the government opposes.
But the tax laws do not depend, obviously, on whether a charitable organization supports or opposes the policies of the current U.S. administration. Groups like the Sierra Club and the ACLU have often promoted policies at odds with administration policies, but no one has suggested that they should therefore lose their tax-exempt status. And, of course, you can contribute to tax-exempt organizations like the Free Gaza Movement. But somehow the idea took hold that charities lending support to Israeli settlements are somehow different. This idea was promoted by pro-Palestinian groups, who encouraged IRS scrutiny of such organizations:
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) announced the [day after the Ignatius column appeared] that it would begin a campaign of filing legal complaints with the IRS and the Treasury Department to investigate groups “allegedly raising funds for the development of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.”
ADC is closely tied to the Obama White House. The president recorded a video greeting to the group’s annual conference and sent two senior administration officials to attend.
The ADC announced in October 2009 that it had expanded its legal campaign against pro-Israel charities and was “working with a number of coalition partners, both nationally and internationally, in conducting this ongoing campaign.”
In July 2010, the New York Times chimed in with a long article titled Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank. The Times acknowledged that tax-exempt contributions to pro-Israel organizations are entirely legal, but advanced the idea that they are somehow suspect:
The use of charities to promote a foreign policy goal is neither new nor unique – Americans also take tax breaks in giving to pro-Palestinian groups. But the donations to the settler movement stand out because of the centrality of the settlement issue in the current talks and the fact that Washington has consistently refused to allow Israel to spend American government aid in the settlements. Tax breaks for the donations remain largely unchallenged, and unexamined by the American government. The Internal Revenue Service declined to discuss donations for West Bank settlements. State Department officials would comment only generally, and on condition of anonymity.
“It’s a problem,” a senior State Department official said, adding, “It’s unhelpful to the efforts that we’re trying to make.”…
Palestinian officials expressed outrage at the tax breaks.
The IRS appears to have taken complaints about pro-Israel charities to heart. The Free Beacon reports:
One pro-Israel targets was HaYovel, which was featured prominently in the New York Times article. Six months after the article was published, the IRS audited the Nashville-based charity, which sends volunteers to work in vineyards across the Green Line.
“We bookend that [New York Times] story. We were the first [group mentioned]. They really kind of focused on us,” said HaYovel’s founder Tommy Waller. “Then six months later we had an audit.”…
Two other organizations – the American arm of an educational institution that operates across the Green Line and the American arm of a well-known Israeli charity that was mentioned in the New York Times article – say they were also audited.
Another organization that was criticized in multiple articles during 2009 and 2010 was audited last year. The organization, like many of the groups with whom the Free Beacon spoke, asked to remain anonymous out of fear of political retaliation and concern that exposure would harm fundraising efforts…
Concerns that the IRS was targeting pro-Israel groups were first raised publicly by Z Street, a pro-Israel organization run by Lori Lowenthal Marcus.
Z Street filed a lawsuit against the IRS in 2010, alleging its application for tax-exempt status was delayed because it disagreed with the Obama administration’s Israel policy.
The House committees that are looking into the IRS scandal should put this topic high on their agenda. Did President Obama or someone acting at his direction order the IRS to crack down on organizations that disagree with his Middle East policies? Was any similar scrutiny applied to pro-Palestinian groups? Or, perhaps, did IRS officials take their cue from the Washington Post, the New York Times and pro-Palestinian pressure groups and initiate discriminatory policies on their own initiative?
Possibly an investigation will show that audits and delays to which pro-Israel groups have been subjected are random, and not the result of political animus. But given the impressive record of lawlessness that the Obama administration has compiled, no one will take that conclusion for granted.
Could the situation at the IRS get any worse? McClatchy joins CBS News in postulating that the scandal may well expand to more than just applications for tax-exempt status. Both news agencies are starting to take complaints about predatory and punitive audits and other actions and put them into a very ugly pattern – and ask some very difficult questions of the Obama administration:
While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.
The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.
Former IRS leaders have apologized for inappropriate scrutiny of conservative organizations. They haven’t to date, however, divulged who developed the criteria, how they were developed or when and how they extended to groups associated with conservative causes that didn’t have “tea party,” “patriot” or similar catchwords in their names.
Widening congressional investigations and federal lawsuits are likely to reveal more about the scope and intent of the inappropriate treatment of conservative groups by the IRS. The House Ways and Means Committee plans a hearing Tuesday to allow victims to testify for the first time. In earlier hearings, one IRS official pleaded the Fifth to avoid answering questions.
McClatchy includes the case of Catherine Engelbrecht, which CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson co-reported yesterday. That case, of course, goes far beyond the IRS; Engelbrecht’s business got harassed by the FBI, ATF, and OSHA as well, which would mean coordination far above the Treasury Department. They also include the case of an anti-abortion group that was told they couldn’t picket Planned Parenthood locations if they wanted to keep their exemption, and a Nebraska veteran who got hassled in an IRS audit over his donations to his church once he began donating to conservative causes.
That may end up being the undercard next week, however. The House Oversight Committee will hold hearings over the next two weeks to take testimony from the low-level employees in Cincinnati that Lois Lerner and her former bosses Douglas Shulman and Steven Miller tried to turn into scapegoats:
House investigators will interview four Internal Revenue Service employees over the next two weeks, POLITICO has learned.
The House Ways and Means and Oversight committees hope the four front-line employees from the agency’s Cincinnati office will help lawmakers better understand how the IRS targeting of conservative groups first began.
A committee aide declined to name the employees to be interviewed. But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said earlier this month he wants the IRS to make available five employees for transcribed interviews including John Shafer, a screening group manager, Gary Muthert, a screener in the tax-exempt division, Liz Hofacre, a former case coordinator from April to October 2010, and Joseph Herr, a former advocacy group manager.
What will be the likelihood that these five will fall on swords and swear that no one told them to target these groups? I’d put the odds on the low side for that outcome.
John Eastman wants a closer look at an already-known outrage in this scandal, too (via Instapundit):
In March of 2012 the Human Rights Campaign published a confidential tax return of the National Organization for Marriage, which was immediately republished by The Huffington Post and other liberal news media outlets. The HRC and NOM are the leading national groups on opposing sides of the fight over gay marriage. HRC wants to redefine marriage to make it genderless, while NOM wishes to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
My organization was not the only conservative-linked political group or business that appears to have faced shady actions from IRS employees. ProPublica reported this week that the IRS handed over to them confidential documents of nine conservative organizations whose applications for non-profit status were still pending. Among them: Crossroads GPS, a key group backing Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Our case was particularly egregious because the IRS leak of confidential information fed directly into an ongoing political battle. For months before March 2012, the pro-gay marriage HRC had been demanding that my group, NOM, publicly identify its major donors, something that NOM and many other non-profits refuse to do. The reason is simple. In the past, gay marriage advocates have used such information to launch campaigns of intimidation against traditional marriage supporters…
At this stage, nobody is accusing the White House or the Obama re-election campaign of illegal activity. But there is a serious question about whether there was communication or possible collusion between the IRS and the HRC, and if there was, whether anyone at the White House or the Obama re-election campaign was involved.
It is imperative that congressional investigators get to the bottom of the issue. If the IRS can get away with leaking NOM’s confidential tax return to its chief political opponent, then no taxpayer is safe from political retribution by the federal government.
The retribution part has already been established. We need to know who ordered it, and how that information got networked.
As you probably know from interviews we’ve posted of Walid Shoebat, he has exposed the Islamic terrorist connections of Malik Obama, brother of President Obama, and how Malik Obama funds terrorism with his IRS-granted tax exempt organization, Barack H. Obama foundation, signed off on by none other than Lois Lerner.
Interested yet? Just watch: