Washington Representative Jim McDermott (D) was right to call yesterday’s IRS hearing “political theater.”
WASHINGTON, June 4 (Reuters) – Tea Party and other conservative groups delivered an emotional plea for Washington to rein in government overreach on Tuesday as they told lawmakers about how the Internal Revenue Service targeted them with relentless paperwork and intrusive questions when they sought tax-exempt status.
The House Ways and Means Committee invited a collection of groups to speak about their experiences as details continue to emerge about how and why IRS officials in a Cincinnati, Ohio, field office began targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
“This was not an accident. This is a willful act of intimidation intended to discourage a point of view,” said Becky Gerritson, president of a Tea Party group in Wetumpka, Alabama.
She tearfully described how she and her husband had to seek legal counsel when confronted with questionnaires about their donors, communications with legislators and their voter education activities.
“I’m not interested in scoring political points. I want to protect and preserve the America I grew up in,” Gerritson said.
I don’t know the specifics of the case or what Gerritson truly had to endure, but we need some perspective here. Last night on The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell gave us that perspective when he contrasted conservative testimony at the IRS hearing with real discrimination in the form of racial bias in America’s failed war on drugs. Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at four times the rate of whites even though use among both groups is about equal.
I don’t want to completely dismiss Gerritson’s situation, but it pales in comparison to racial profiling and discrimination that happens daily in this country. Racial discrimination cuts to the core of who you are, your very human essence. Discrimination against beliefs are horrible. Discrimination against race is even worse. It’s not even clear Gerritson’s group and other conservative groups faced actual discrimination because of their political ideology.
And at the end of the day, we are talking about tax exempt status, or in other words, a subsidy from American taxpayers to finance the political ideology of Tea Party groups. I believe Congressman McDermott made this point very clear yesterday.
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representative Jim McDermott gave the following remarks at the Ways and Means Hearing.
Remarks as Prepared
“Freedom of speech is, no doubt, one of most important fundamental rights. It is unacceptable in every way for a government agency to unfairly scrutinize any organization because of their political affiliations. The IRS has unequivocally made a mistake here. I am sorry your organizations were singled out like this, and while I think this was a case of foolish account management and dangerously careless shortcuts, I will not hesitate to say that the IRS was wrong.
“But as I listen to this discussion, I’d like to remind everyone what we are talking about here. None of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced. We are talking about whether or not the American taxpayers would subsidize your work. We are talking about a tax break.
“I get the feeling that many of you and my Republican colleagues don’t just believe you should be free from political targeting, but that you should be free from scrutiny of any kind.
“The purpose of C3 and C4 tax exemptions is to enable easier promotion of public good, not political work. It is the responsibility of the IRS to determine which groups are choosing the correct exempt status and which are trying to manipulate the system to avoid taxes and hide political organizations and their campaign donors. Without oversight, a status meant for charities becomes a machine for political money laundering. And if you think that’s farfetched, you can talk to Speaker Gingrich. He was fined $300,000 by the Ethics Committee for funneling money from a C3 to his Political Action Committee.
“Each of your groups is highly political. From opposing the President’s healthcare reform, to abortion restrictions, to gay marriage, you’re all entrenched in some of the most controversial political issues in this country – and with your applications you are asking the American public to pay for that work. Many of you host and endorse candidates. The line between permitted political activity and non-permitted political activity can be very fine, and it’s important that tax payers know which side you fall on.
“If there was an organization promoting taxpayer funding for abortions, wouldn’t you want to be sure they weren’t using their tax-free money to campaign for a candidate? What about a group that wanted to promote voting without I.D.’s? What if, in the midst of an increase of Communist candidates, new Communist clubs wanted tax-free status? Wouldn’t you want to be sure that the self-declared tax-free classifications of those groups were correct?
“The mistake here was that the staff organizing the applications used the names of the groups rather than the work they do – and asked improper questions to figure that out. It was wrong.
“But let’s not get lost. During the Bush administration liberal groups were targeted without any concern by Mr. Issa or anyone else in this committee. The Republicans are looking for a conspiracy where there isn’t one. Mr. Issa said he can feel in his gut that someone’s broken the law. Which is more likely: that midlevel employees took stupid, irresponsible shortcuts or that there’s an administration-wide plot to take down community organizers? Let’s not forget that this all happened under Republican IRS Commissioners and was investigated by a Republican Inspector General.
“What happened to you was unfair and incredibly inconvenient, but it was a mistake. Our job is to make sure this never happens again. Anything else, like the circus happening at the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is political theatre.”
Watch the full speech here.