This Isn’t the First Time the IRS has Targeted Specific Groups

Written by Melanie Gleason

At first glance, it may seem like another annoying addition to the scandal du jour list: Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged that the Justice Department and FBI began a criminal investigation on whether Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees broke the law when they targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status–using search terms such as “tea party” and “patriot.”

However, what may initially appear as a political party tit for tat goes much deeper–in that the IRS has long been a vehicle of political retribution (with politics depending on what administration is currently seated in power)–and perhaps most disconcerting of all: tossing the constitutionally guaranteed equal protection clause right out the window.

The recurrent theme of governmental power targeting marginalized political communities has been a consistent, abysmal tradition dating back to the FDR administration. The administration admitted using inflated charges of tax evasion on political targets such as former Louisiana governor and senator Huey Long. And the tactic of wielding the IRS’ fiery wrath is an equal opportunity strategy for both sides of the aisle: under the Nixon administration, the IRS created the Special Services Staff (SSS) to look into thousands of perceived political enemies–including reporters who wrote critical stories of Nixon, such as Newsday’s Robert Greene, and civil rights organizations like the NAACP.

In fact, RAN has its own history with the IRS. In 2004, under the Bush administration, RAN was actually subpoenaed by the House Ways and Means Committee for all information relating to our demonstrations since 1993. Undoubtedly, this was part of a burgeoning effort by the Bush administration to stifle dissent and control free speech of activist groups. Six months before the subpoena, RAN had successfully won two major corporate campaigns: leading the first major logger, Boise Cascade, out of old-growth forests and transforming the lending practices of the world’s largest bank at the time, Citibank. Was it a coincidence that RAN was served a subpoena fresh off the heels of winning two of its biggest corporate victories?

So, the latest news of the IRS under the Obama Administration supposedly overreaching its tentacles into right-wing groups is certainly no foreign concept. In fact, what is happening currently with the Tea Party is probably one of the least egregious examples in this sordid, intertwined history. It’s also worth mentioning that these same right-wing groups were silent when RAN, Greenpeace and other allied organizations were subpoenaed under the Bush Administration. Still, this should be a wake-up call for those watching on the sidelines. This is symptomatic of our checks and balances system utterly failing.

The strategy of utilizing the IRS to do a political party’s bidding reveals something undeniably malignant: the government has a lot of leeway to unleash its fury on its desired targets. It is a wrath that is felt disproportionately according to what administration is in power and what interests are not currently serving the status quo. The truth is, this “scandal” should really be a full-fledged exposé on how the government may be inflicting both disparate intent and impact on people and groups that are not serving the current administration’s interests.

This is all indicative of a much larger problem we have in American government: the synergy and integration of government and corporate/special interests. If you’re sitting on the wrong side of the fence, the administration is essentially condoning the fact that it is okay to violate your equal protection rights. So, it is more than a political party spin job–it is about our government having unbridled power with launching intimidation tactics–that come at a heavy monetary and time cost. RAN and other organizations that have been subpoenaed have spent thousands in legal fees and have had operations stalled for months.

No presidential administration should be able to rattle this constitutionally protected dissent and free speech. As former Executive Director of RAN, Mike Brune, wrote in 2004 in response to Bill Thomas, former chairman on Ways and Means: “We firmly believe that citizen activism is a patriotic American tradition and a basis for a healthy democracy, and that it is not only a right, but also a responsibility.” And this all begs the question: what other entities does the US government have synergy with so it can continue inflicting additional oppression on marginalized political targets?

This post was originally published by Rainforest Action Network.


Photo: Beverley & Pack/flickr


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Shela L.
sheila l5 years ago

I also believe too many groups are getting tax exempt status; this entire decision making on who gets tax exempt status should be examined as why too many organizations are receiving this benefit and they should be paying taxes like the rest of us.

Shela L.
sheila l5 years ago

I find this behavior unacceptable it is the beginning of a totaltarian regime and it should NOT be accepted. People guilty of this behavior need to be fully investigated and the laws should be enforced without question so it hinders any further bad actions by this agency.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago


In today's New York Times, Charles Blow puts forth his theories as to why the comparative lack of interest. He believes one basic reason is that the GOP simply has little credibility among the public at large, having wasted it in on four years of hysterical Obama-bashing whose end result was the first re-election of a Democratic President by majority popular vote in several decades. Another reason is that Republicans' feelings towards the IRS, for example, are already well-known and hardly surprise anyone. Blow might have added that with having endured decades of gaping tax loopholes for the uber-wealthies of Romneyville, the public's feelings toward the agency might actually reflect the fact that not enough taxes are being collected. With respect to Benghazi-Gate, Blow rightly points out that most Americans couldn't put Benghazi on a map. And they can't understand why calling the attacks on the US embassy an "act of terror" instead of a "terrorist act" should generate millions of wasted tax dollars in Congressional investigations. ...

... The bottom line, though, appears to be that the GOP shot its credibility in the foot long ago, and the chickens have simply come home to roost. The combination of Fox News, the demonization of all things Obama and their own lack of any accomplishments whatsoever have simply prompted Americans to tune them out:

Republicans are their own worst enemies at times like these, unable to leave well-enough alone, and m

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago

And bring this to everyone's attention, so they can read it in full at source:

Sat May 18, 2013
Charles Blow, NYTimes: Americans Yawning at GOP Phony Scandals

by Dartagnan
The "greatest scandal since Watergate" is turning out to be a big snooze as far as Americans are concerned. A Gallup poll released Thursday revealed that Americans are paying little attention to "Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!" or the IRS inquiries of the Tea Party Idiots:

The amount of attention Americans are paying to the IRS and the Benghazi situations is well below the average for news stories Gallup has tracked over the years. This overall lack of attention is due in part to Democrats' and, to a lesser degree, independents' lack of interest, which stands in sharp contrast to the significantly above-average attention among Republicans.

Of course, Republicans addicted to Fox News are convinced these are the stories of the century, since they have no reference point for anything else:

Republicans are much more likely to say they are following these news stories closely than are independents or in particular Democrats. There is a 21-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Democrats in terms of following the Benghazi story closely, and a 27-point gap on the IRS story.

In today's New York Times, Charles Blow puts forth his theori

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago

I'll repost this highly pertinent bit:

Mon May 13, 2013
IRS v. Tea Party & DOJ v. AP are BOTH GOP-Fabricated Non-Scandals

by ericlewis0

We'll debunk the IRS' extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups first. From USA Today:

According to a timeline compiled by independent IRS investigators, the IRS first began searching for Tea Party-related groups in March 2010. The policy underwent several revisions through 2011 and 2012 and now involves only organizations with "indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention." The head of the IRS when this began in March of 2010 was Douglas Shulman, appointed by George W. Bush in 2008. He continued as chief of the IRS until just about 6 months ago - Nov. 9, 2012.
And yet Mitch McTurtle and Marco Rubio are now calling for the current acting head of the IRS to step down? That is to LoLz
The other IRS employee catching a lot of the blame for this is Lois Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations Division. She's the one who said publicly something like, "Sorry - I'm not too good at math." Well, guess what - she also was appointed by Dubya back in 2005.

Kevin Brown
Kevin B5 years ago

C'mon we all know damn good and well that these "tea-party" groups are primarily political and have no business having tax-exempt status.

Beth M.
Beth M5 years ago

Already knew this.

Don Swanz
Don Swanz5 years ago

NO ONE is denying - not even the IRS - that the IRS is guilty of delaying approval of applications for tax exemptions. The only QUESTION IS: who within the IRS authorized and approved these actions?

Now, prior to throwing our names etc. like so many of you have been doing right along and then challenging those individuals who question your BS - and to date, it has been all BS - get your duck in a row and PLEASE provide us with FACTS along with the names. FACTS! Not BS. FACTS! Don :-))

Paul B.
Paul B5 years ago

Plus... since they ALL eventually received approval, they must have been valid organizations.

But the discussion is regarding the unfair treatment they received versus their counterparts on the left. that is what was illegal, and should be appalling to ALL citizens.

Regardless of who did what or when in the past. If it was wrong then, then it is still wrong NOW!!! So what are we discussing, what FDR did, or what Obama and this administration did during the past few years.

How can you defend what you despised in previous administrations???