Today’s big news story was the IRS’s admission that it had targeted conservative organizations–specifically, Tea Party groups–for audits. Not to be overlooked is the further admission that the IRS improperly demanded donor lists from some of these organizations, presumably so that conservative donors, too, could be harassed.
This is a shocking news story–one that would be a major scandal in a Republican administration–but it is not the first time the Obama administration has abused the IRS. In August 2010, Austin Goolsbee, who directed Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and later chaired his Council of Economic Advisers, gave a press briefing in which he discussed corporate income taxes. In that briefing, he suggested that he had access to confidential IRS data, and falsely accused the administration’s beta noire, Koch Industries, of not paying corporate income taxes:
So in this country we have partnerships, we have S corps, we have LLCs, we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax. Some of which are really giant firms, you know Koch Industries is a multibillion dollar businesses. So that creates a narrower base because we’ve literally got something like 50 percent of the business income in the U.S. is going to businesses that don’t pay any corporate income tax.
How would an Obama administration official have access to records showing how much a particular company pays in taxes? Unless the administration has some good explanation, such access would be illegal. As it happens, the claim that Koch doesn’t pay taxes (much like the equally absurd assertion that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes) is false. But that doesn’t excuse the Obama administration for misrepresenting confidential tax information to smear a political enemy.
After Goolsbee’s smear became public, Koch asked whether its tax returns had been improperly accessed by members of the Obama administration. As always, the administration stonewalled and refused to answer. The administration’s experience has been that it can endlessly abuse its powers, break the law with impunity, and if caught, brazen it out. Thus, in the absence of an independent mass news media, are habits developed which culminate in the scandals in which the administration is now engulfed.
UPDATE: Also, let’s not forget Obama’s joke, during the first days of his presidency, in a speech at Arizona State University:
I really thought this was much ado about nothing, but I do think we all learned an important lesson. I learned never again to pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA brackets. . . . President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS.
At the time, most people thought he was kidding. But as Glenn Reynolds pointed out at the time, jokes about presidential abuse of power are not funny when they come from the president. With hindsight, more attention should have been paid.