IRS scandal probe expands to include the FEC

CNN reports that House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa has widened the investigation into IRS targeting of conservative groups to include the Federal Election Commission, demanding five years of communications records between the two agencies:

In a letter to FEC Chairman Ellen Weintraub — a Democrat — Issa cited CNN reporting on Monday that raises “the prospect of inappropriate coordination between the IRS and the FEC about tax-exempt entities.”

Among other things, Issa asked for records of all communications between the IRS and the FEC dating back to the start of 2008. He also requested records of any FEC discussions relating to tax-exempt applications or organizations since 2008.

The letter was co-signed by Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a prominent member of Issa’s panel.

The CNN brass must be having one of the greatest manic-depressive meltdowns of all time over this.  On the one hand, news organizations love it when they make news.  On the other hand… oh, crap, this IRS thing’s gonna blow up half of the Obama Administration.

The report in question concerned the Republican vice-chair of the FEC spotting an email between one of his agency’s investigators and the winsome Lois Lerner, currently Overpaid Government Bureaucrat-Without-Portfolio as she languishes on paid administrative leave *, but lately of the Internal Revenue Service.  Before that, she worked for the FEC, and racked up several impressive accusations of abusing official power to target Republican candidates and groups.

For instance, there was the time Lerner told the Republican running against Dick Durbin (D-IL) for Senate in 1996, Al Salvi, that if he’d promise never to run for office again, she’d drop a campaign finance investigation against him.  Salvi said no, and eventually triumphed against the complaint when a judge threw it out, years later.

Lerner also orchestrated an FEC jihad against the Christian Coalition during the 1990s, which featured “burdensome and irrelevant FEC document requests,” an astounding 81 depositions, and nosy questions about what churches the members attended, and what sort of prayers were being offered.  This led Oliver North to angrily remark, “Last time I checked in America, prayers were still legal.”

That all sounds eerily reminiscent of the IRS persecution of pro-life groups, in which the Obama Administration’s vote suppression technicians stalled for time by demanding to see prayer books.  It looks like Lerner had a well-polished act when she left the FEC vaudeville circuit and became the headliner at the IRS casino.  “She was in effect being promoted for what she had done at the Federal Election Commission and now was going to be expected… to replicate that at the IRS, and now we know that’s exactly what happened,” charged James Bopp Jr., who was the Christian Coalition’s attorney in the Nineties.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the remarkably close working relationship between IRS official Lois Lerner and her old chums at the FEC:

In late summer of 2008, Obama lawyer Bob Bauer took issue with ads run against his boss by a 501(c)(4) conservative outfit called American Issues Project. Mr. Bauer filed a complaint with the FEC, called on the criminal division of the Justice Department to prosecute AIP, and demanded to see documents the group had filed with the IRS.

Thanks to Congress’s newly released emails, we now know that FEC attorneys went to Ms. Lerner to pry out information about AIP???the organization the Obama campaign wanted targeted. An email from Feb. 3, 2009, shows an FEC attorney asking Ms. Lerner “whether the IRS had issued an exemption letter” to AIP, and requesting that she share “any information” on the group. Nine minutes after Ms. Lerner received this FEC email, she directed IRS attorneys to fulfill the request.

This matters because FEC staff didn’t have permission from the Commission to conduct this inquiry. It matters because the IRS is prohibited from sharing confidential information, even with the FEC. What the IRS divulged is unclear. Congressional investigators are demanding to see all communications between the IRS and FEC since 2008, and given that Ms. Lerner came out of the FEC’s office of the general counsel, that correspondence could prove illuminating.

Nine minutes to fulfill an illegal request?  Whoa.  That’s what I call customer service!

This led to a series of comically inappropriate efforts by the FEC to get AIP indicted as a political action committee pretending to be a nonprofit.  A proper non-profit must maintain a certain distance from partisan politics, as in the example of Obama for America… I’m sorry, “Organizing for Action,” whose scrupulously non-political mission is to “support President Obama in achieving enactment of the national agenda Americans voted for on Election Day 2012.”  That’s all just generic social welfare advocacy, you understand, not a partisan agenda.  But Obama for America… excuse me, the FEC… was determined to take the American Issues Project by any means necessary.  They eventually tried changing the rules for computing the percentage of funds expended on direct campaign activity, retroaactively, without consulting the commissioners.

The Republican commissioners were appalled, noting that FEC staff had always taken a multiyear view of expenditures, including when it came to cases against liberal groups, like the League of Conservation Voters or the Voter Fund. The FEC staff also sought to impose this new standard after the fact, with no notice to election players and no input from the commissioners.

Vice Chairman McGahn’s statement is scathing. “Here,” he writes, FEC staff “could be seen as manipulating the timeline to reach the conclusion that AIP is a political committee. . . . Such after-the-fact determinations create the appearance of impropriety, whether or not such impropriety exists.”

The broader AIP case is, in fact, beyond improper. It’s fishy. The Obama campaign takes its vendetta against a political opponent to the FEC. The FEC staff, as part of an extraordinary campaign to bring down AIP and other 501(c)(4) groups, reaches out to Lois Lerner, the woman overseeing IRS targeting. Mr. McGahn has also noted that FEC staff has in recent years had an improperly tight relationship with the Justice Department???to which the Obama campaign also complained about AIP.

Democrats are increasingly desperate to suggest that the IRS scandal was the work of a few rogue agents. With the stink spreading to new parts of the federal government, that’s getting harder to do.

Oh, I’m sure Rep. Elijah Cummings and the other Democrat saboteurs at House Oversight will think of something.

* Actually, it’s not entirely clear what Lois Lerner is up to these days, because House Oversight forgot to tag her with a radio transmitter before releasing her into the wild.  The Hill ran a story in late July about Rep. Issa and House Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp asking for clarification on the status of Lerner and a few other key scandal figures.  I can’t tell if they ever got an answer from the IRS, but a Politico article from August 5 implied she was still on paid leave, now running into its tenth week, speculating without further elaboration that “August could see an announcement of her departure.”