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Editorials

May 16, 2013

EDITORIAL: The IRS' Turn to Answer Questions

The following editorial appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post

Washington is now sinking its teeth into a real scandal: the Internal Revenue Service using ideological criteria to choose the targets of its attention. What we already know is bad enough. Given the seriousness of the charges and the unreliability of IRS disclosures so far, purposeful, sober investigation is exactly what is needed.

At first, the IRS' admission that it flagged applications for tax-exempt status from tea party-type groups brought reaction that broke along partisan lines. But on Monday, President Obama called the news "outrageous," adding: "I've got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it. And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this." Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, Nev., joined other Democratic lawmakers to support an investigation in his chamber, something Republican leaders in the House had pledged on Friday.

Any unequal application of the law based on ideological viewpoint is unpardonable — toxic to the legitimacy of the government's vast law-enforcement authority.

A forthcoming Treasury Department inspector general's report finds that IRS staffers looked for applications for tax-exempt status from groups that used in their names words such as "Tea Party," "Patriots" and "9/12," as well as ones that contained expressions of concern about government spending or criticism of how the country is run. One manager worried — with reason — that this targeting might result in "over-inclusion" of applications that needed no such scrutiny. By 2011, IRS staff had set aside more than 100 applications for added review. It wasn't just a couple of wayward staffers involved but rather a number of IRS agents and managers.

The inspector general also reports that Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS' tax-exempt organization office, knew about the targeting in 2011; she seemed to say Friday that she learned about it from news reports last year. That inconsistency raises suspicions about the agency's statements that higher-ups didn't know about the targeting and that there was no political motivation.

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