Years after the Internal Revenue Service scandal broke and long after the media lost interest in the agency’s practice of subjecting conservative groups to special scrutiny and delays, the government is quietly seeking to bury it. A ruling from a federal judge earlier this month demanding that the IRS finally resolve stalled applications for non-profit status has gotten results.
Many of these small groups often affiliated with the Tea Party movement have now been granted the designation they needed to begin fundraising. Among them was Z Street, a pro-Israel group whose tax exemption request dated back to 2010. While the resolution seems to be satisfactory, the result is actually anything but. Rather than a belated triumph for justice, what has happened here is quite the opposite.
Though the Z Street litigation preceded the general outrage about the revelations about the IRS’s discrimination broke in the spring of 2013, it opened a window into the way the supposedly apolitical tax agency operated. IRS personnel didn’t just make Z Street jump through hoops unknown to groups that were not associated with causes opposed by the Obama administration. An IRS agent specifically told Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus that the government gave “special scrutiny” not only to pro-Israel organizations but also to those that advocated views that “contradict those of the administration’s.”
Though the government fought a long battle to prevent Z Street—which is sympathetic to Israel’s settlement movement—from suing to recover its rights, the courts consistently upheld its right to do so. But thanks to a separate court ruling, the IRS has now waved the white flag on this case and dozens of others that all involved agents opposing or stalling requests from non-profits similarly linked to positions that were not favored by President Obama.
No one should think justice has really been done. After years of being dormant because of its inability to raise money that could be deducted as a charitable donation, Z Street has probably been dead in the water too long to recover. The same is probably true for the other “winners” in this battle. More to the point, whatever influence their educational efforts might have achieved had they been allowed to function effectively has been lost. Considering that most of these groups sought to promote ideas (though not parties or politicians) on which the 2012, 2014, and now the 2016 elections were fought, there’s no denying the fact that they were effectively silenced by a band of officious government bureaucrats pursuing the liberal agenda of the Obama administration.
Though there is still no proof that the IRS agents were acting on direct orders of the White House, their willingness to behave in this matter advanced the president’s political interests in a way that ought to stir bipartisan outrage. Unfortunately, neither Democrats nor the president’s faithful liberal media were able to see past their partisan loyalties to take effective action. Indeed, as we head toward the election of our next president, the IRS scandal has been sent down a memory hole and is largely forgotten. This wasn’t the first time the IRS has been used to advance a partisan agenda, but it isn’t likely to be the last. There is no reason to think that the pattern might not be repeated in the future once the dust settles.
That’s why it’s important that Z Street’s litigation against the IRS continue so that the courts get to the heart of the problem. For the group to get its exemption without getting answers about why it was denied so long, and who gave the order to obstruct it is unacceptable. Though the courts may think the question is now moot, what is needed is a resolution that will point toward a constitutionally valid process for the IRS to follow, not belated government surrender to groups that were fatally undermined by an illegal policy.
This is not an issue on which conservatives and liberals ought to be divided. A government that is allowed to play fast and loose with the basic rules of fairness to disadvantage conservatives or friends of Israel could easily be employed by different people to discriminate against liberals. That’s why the IRS scandal still matters. Let’s hope the courts don’t close the file on this issue before genuine accountability is provided.