I was livid last week when I learned that the Internal Revenue Service was targeting organizations based on their ideology. Having spent much of my professional life fighting and exposing government malfeasance, I realize that frequently such improprieties are only the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, this iceberg is of Titanic proportions.
When the IRS scandal broke, I ordered a review of our organization and the website analytics of our affiliate news project, Watchdog.org. From January 2010 to the end of April 2013, Franklin Center???s websites were visited by IRS computers 492 times, and received 128 visits from the Executive Office of the President (eop.gov). Some of these visits were to the same page on the same day. This alone is far enough out of the ordinary to warrant a raised eyebrow, but when taken in the context of other suspicious behavior by the executive branch, we can???t help but have some serious concerns.
For example, the IRS has subjected the Albuquerque Tea Party to a four-year investigation, giving special scrutiny to the lives and activities of its associates. New Mexico Watchdog tracked down one of the IRS??? targets in Albuquerque: Marianne Chiffelle, an 83-year-old great-grandmother who survived four years in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. Chiffelle???s ???suspicious political activity??? includes hosting weekly breakfasts for local activists, and handing out patriotic coloring books to children.
Meanwhile, the Leadership Institute was subjected to a full audit at the same time the IRS was inappropriately targeting other groups. What???s suspicious here is the information the IRS requested from this center-right educational organization–names of interns, emails between LI and conservative groups, and the organization???s strategy for promoting its trainings. It seems possible that the IRS was interested as much in learning about LI???s practices as it was in the group???s tax reform, which was ultimately accepted as filed.
And as even more of the iceberg becomes visible, it???s becoming clear that the IRS isn???t the only federal agency targeting conservative groups. The Competitive Enterprise Institute found that the EPA grants fee waivers on records requests to liberal environmental groups over 90% of the time–but fewer than 20% of the time to center-right groups. It???s now just a matter of learning how pervasive this corrupted culture of power is. These are the questions journalists need to ask, and I???m guessing we won???t like the answers.
The executive branch has grown into an unaccountable leviathan of unelected bureaucrats and is becoming a danger to everyone. Regardless of political ideology, everyone should be treated equally under the law.
And if you think the White House is going to start holding these bureaucrats accountable, think again. The IRS staffer who oversaw the targeting of conservative groups has been reassigned. She???s now overseeing the IRS??? Obamacare office. Now do you feel comfortable Turning your medical records over to the IRS?
Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity