May 27, 2013

When Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor to Vice President Biden, recently addressed the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, he said:

“Public Policy is a study in imperfection.  It involves imperfect people, with imperfect information, facing deeply imperfect choices, so it’s not surprising that they’re getting imperfect results.”

The more I learn about the IRS “scandal”, the more I think Sullivan’s  theory of imperfection is probably right on target.

I am with the majority; it is disconcerting that political groups were “targeted” by the IRS-even if the targeting originally happened as part of an attempt to speed up the process created by over-whelming 501(c) (3) -charity and 501(c) (4)-social welfare applications.

These groups are NOT allowed to conduct political activities-at least as a majority of their efforts, and certainly the IRS is prohibited from targeting political groups.

But as I read more about this, I am wondering if the cause of all this “scandal” may lie in the charitable and social welfare organizations themselves.  As I understand it, these organizations normally (with some significant exceptions) do not have “significant income subject to tax” but are often established because they do not have to reveal donor names.

The situation becomes complicated by a couple factors:

Not only the dollar amount, but things like volunteer hours supporting specific candidates can jeopardize the 501(c)(3) status; and thus when reviewed by the IRS, questions get asked that are not strictly financial in order to validate compliance in terms of volunteer use, for example. 

Learning this, I began to wonder if this is another example of tax laws not carefully thought through at implementation that have run amuck and been abused, followed by inappropriate “targeting” by the IRS.

And then this morning, we learn that several of these organizations from California to Alabama to Ohio,   when examined by the IRS were found not to be in compliance with regulations.  The organizations very visably supported specific GOP candidates and activities. Then, when they were examined by the IRS, they cried “foul” and were among those that complained they were targeted and unfairly treated…and the current “scandal” was born.   However, the IRS reviews were based on actual election activity that provided a legitimate basis for closer review.   And in these cases, the IRS had “cause”.

In fact, it appears that some election lawyers maintain that in view of the high stakes of the 2014 election (and the poor current position of the Republican Party) these very groups subject to review and audit were the ones that raised the issue cloaked in half-truths to derail the legitimate audit. And they did a very good job in the derailing, didn’t they?!!

Only patience and time will reveal the truth, but I am beginning to think the IRS Scandal may, like, Benghazi, have its roots in the desperation of the Republican Party to cast dispersion one more time upon the Obama Administration as a means of regaining a political foothold – or perhaps a hope that scandals that stick to Obama may at some point TRUMP the biggie – the scandal of Iraq. 

Who knows at this point what the thought process or motivation is, and after a lot of huffing and puffing, we may  come to the conclusion that Yes, there were errors and mistakes that require review with the intent to improve systems and processes going forward but it was not a secret plan hatched in the White House.  Most likely, it will become yet another unfortunate situation innocently caused by human error – not malevolence!  

One more time:  Sullivan’s description may prove to be the best explanation we have:

“Public Policy is a study in imperfection.  It involves imperfect people, with imperfect information, facing deeply imperfect choices, so it’s not surprising that they’re getting imperfect results.”


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