Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball, said on Thursday night that the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups is a “phony,” using the issue rail against non-profit groups that engage in politics and the Citizens United ruling, which overturned campaign finance laws that suppressed political speech.
Matthews made the comments during a segment with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who alleges that leftist groups have been targeted in the same manner as conservative organizations and has filed a lawsuit against the IRS seeking to clarify tax-exempt laws, and Nia-Malika Henderson.
“[T]o this point [House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s] witchhunt has found no witches, not in the White House, of course. In fact, the entire narrative — this so-called ‘scandal,’ this repeated scandal — has gotten pretty hard to follow,” said Matthews in the lead into the segment.
“In fact, is it a scandal? Well, yesterday House Democrats released new evidence that the IRS was also targeting liberal groups in addition to flagging groups with names like ‘progressive.’ They also flagged applicants with terms like ‘emerge’ and, of course, ACORN, a group on the left which would associate with liberal causes,” he added before introducing Van Hollen. “Issa’s camp have dismissed those reports, of course, which could be evidence that he’s using the issue to score political points instead of actually trying to solve whatever problems there are at the IRS.”
Van Hollen accused Issa of operating in a “fact-free zone,” claiming that the “IRS targeted groups on both the right and the left,” according the new information released by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Sander Levin (D-MI), who serve separately as the ranking members on the House Oversight and Ways and Means Committees, respectively. House Democrats are using the evidence to claim that there was no political motivation by the IRS to target these groups.
The IRS’s scrutiny of ACORN isn’t exactly a new discovery. J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), called for a probe of ACORN in 2009 and, some state chapters of the organization that tried to re-brand themselves.
As you may recall, ACORN became the center of controversy in 2009 when it was revealed via James O’Keefe that an employee of tax-exempt organization was using questionable tactics to help people avoid paying taxes, among other things. ACORN was part of the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program that gave free tax help to families in need. The IRS broke ties with ACORN, which was partly funded by taxpayers, shortly after O’Keefe’s video surfaced.
Emerge America, the other group that House Democrats claim was targeted by the IRS, was denied tax-exempt status because, according to the letter it received in 2011, its “activities are primarily for the benefit of a political party and a private group of individuals, rather than the community as a whole.”
Groups that receive tax-exempt status must serve the public welfare, such as education on particular issues and/or grassroots training, and requires them to their political activity. Emerge America is very specifically engaged in “identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office” as Democrats.
House Democrats previously tried to claim that the IRS targeted Leftist groups just as the agency did with conservative organizations. But an internal audit from the agency found that these groups got a pass. Only six Leftist groups, 30% of the organizations that had “progress” or progressive in their names, were set aside for scrutiny out of 298 cases. Conversely, 100% of organizations with “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12” in their names were scrutinized by the IRS.
Despite President Obama and Matthews’ assertion that this is a “phony scandal,” 59% of voters believe that the scandal should be taken seriously, according to a recent Fox News poll. In June, a CNN poll found that 47% of Americans believe the scandal is tied to the White House while 49% said that the IRS acted on its own, which put the numbers within the margin of error.