We believe Abraham Lincoln said that: Yesterday morning, we did a spit take at the bagel joint.
The cause of our lapse was a front-page report in the New York Times. Confessore and Luo reported on the way conservative groups (and others) seeking tax-exempt status were spindled and mutilated by the IRS.
We aren’t experts on this matter, but we thought the reporters began to get inside some of the paradoxes involved in this issue. We were especially struck by this pushback against Inspector General George, who has been cast in the hero role in this heavily novelized tale:
CONFESSORE AND LUO (5/27/13): A report issued this month by the Treasury Department’s inspector general, J. Russell George, found that inappropriate criteria, including groups’ policy positions, were used to flag some cases and that specialists in the I.R.S. office in Cincinnati, which reviews all tax-exemption requests, sometimes asked questions that were irrelevant to the application process.Oof! Can that statement by Owens be true? Assuming that the IRS did make mistakes in this matter, did the inspector general mess this thing up on a par with the revenue gumshoes?
And agency officials have acknowledged that specialists inappropriately used keywords like “Tea Party” and “Patriots” in searching through applications.
But some former I.R.S. officials disputed several of Mr. George’s conclusions, including his assertion that it was inappropriate to ask groups about their donors, or whether their leaders had plans to run for public office. While unusual, the former officials said, such questions are not prohibited if relevant to an application under consideration.
“The I.G. was as careless with terminology as the Cincinnati office was,” said Marcus S. Owens, who headed the I.R.S.’s exempt organizations division until 2000. “Half of those questions have been found to be germane in court decisions.”
Of one thing we can be sure—the facts will never catch up with the politics in this easily politicized case. Our national discourse is built around novels. Facts play a minor role.
That said, Who will inspect the inspectors general? Inspectors general are a bit like whistle-blowers or fact-checkers. Those all sound like fine pursuits, until you see people attempt them.
Who will inspect the inspectors general? We believe Abraham Lincoln said that.