Higgins: This Ain’t No WatergateWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s inevitable I suppose, that comparisons are being made by those on both sides of the aisle between the IRS scandal plaguing the current administration and the scandal that then President Richard Nixon faced some forty years ago. Of course, every scandal (political or otherwise) these days gets compared to Watergate, at least to the point of the mainstream media adding the combining form “-gate” to whatever one word name it has chosen for the scandal to show the connection. For those of you who’ve forgotten or simply not read your history, however, this is little more than a bit of shoddy journalism. “Watergate” was not a scandal about water, but in fact the name of the Washington, D.C., hotel where a politically motivated break-in was committed by members of the Nixon re-election campaign.
Now for those who haven’t been reading a newspaper, listening to talk radio or watching any news on television, it seems that in this latest ‘-gate’ scandal, some members of the IRS have been accused of using a version of “bureaucratic two-step” in the process of granting (or failing to grant) 501(c)4 tax-exempt status to organizations that have been applying for them. Because there are certain guidelines to which such groups must abide in order to gain the ability to accept and spend tax-free contributions, the IRS is responsible for insuring that regulatory compliance is performed. Apparently, this is where the problem begins.
We’ve been told that in the wake of the Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision, the number of requests for such status increased in the months leading up to the 2012 election, and that as a result, certain delays occurred. Now by sheer coincidence, this was also a time in which the president not only called out the Supreme Court for its decision during his 2010 State of the Union address, but subsequently made a number of speeches against the Court’s decision and the so-called Tea Party movement.
Suddenly and coincidentally, a process which normally took 90 days to complete, dragged on for years for these conservative groups applying for status, while more liberal groups received their paperwork within the normal period. In addition to the standard information required of these groups (and after some delay in responding), significant additional (and some would say intrusive) information was requested. Donor information for some of the groups under scrutiny, the release of which is a violation of federal law, was “mistakenly” released to opposition groups who asked for it. A number of donors to these groups, who had never come under the previous scrutiny of the IRS, were coincidentally audited by the tax agency.
Now history tells us that two reporters from the Washington Post, with a secret source inside the government, took two years to bring the nefarious deeds of Nixon’s merry men to the light of day. So it should be of little surprise that after only a few weeks of limited media focus and a shorter period of congressional hearings, we are nowhere near discovering the length or breadth of the appalling activities that apparently went on. Who in the IRS bureaucracy ordered policy changes in processing this paperwork (or through what anonymous and spontaneous process did this change suddenly occur)? Who beyond these unelected drones might have been involved in political obstruction (and when)? And perhaps most importantly, was anyone in the Obama White House or re-election campaign involved in any way with any of what was has already been discovered to have been perpetrated?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to believe that like its predecessor, there’s a political element to these misdeeds. It also seems evident that the poor attempts to cover up these misdeeds will likely lead to the eventual undoing of those involved. Unlike the events that it has been compared to however, there are important differences as well. First, this was not a single act, but a pattern of abuse that went on for a considerable period of time. More importantly, however, the misconduct in this case appears to be not that of one group of politicians acting against another in yet another detestable example of dirty politics — one that even after forty years, the nation carries the guilt of. This latest example execrable electoral activity instead shows all the hallmarks of an incumbent party successfully using a government agency against individual citizens to inhibit (if not prevent) them from participating in the political process.
As horrible as the memory of Watergate is for many of us who know history or politics, the potential of a party in power interfering with the electoral process on this scale should chill both major parties to their very cores. This ain’t no Watergate boys and girls — if this is anything like it appears to be, it’s far worse.