House Republicans should probably investigate Senate Democrats for the big role they played in the IRS scandal

House Republicans have spent a significant amount of time over the 13-plus months investigating the Internal Revenue Service and disgraced official Lois Lerner over the targeting conservative and Tea Party groups.

But a series of ethics complaints filed by the Center for Competitive Politics earlier this month highlights the involvement of nine Senate Democrats, including Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in the IRS scandal, as A. Barton Hinkle explains:

The complaint details several letters Levin wrote to the IRS in which he insisted that “a message needs to be sent” to social-welfare groups “on an urgent basis,” and that the message should make it “crystal clear” they needed to restrict their political activities. Just so the IRS would not misunderstand, he drew attention to two TV advertisements—one by Crossroads GPS and another by Patriot Majority USA.

Unsatisfied by the IRS response, Levin continued to press the agency to give such groups—which are organized under Section 501(c)4) of the tax code—”a choice: either lose their exempt status (and pay taxes) or eliminate the partisan political activity.” He followed that up with a demand to see confidential information about Crossroads GOP, Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA. Informed that “the IRS cannot legally disclose” what he wanted, he tried again—and again. As the ethics complaint notes, “IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller acknowledged in an interview that Senator Levin’s effort did, in fact, have an effect on the IRS’ internal proceedings.”

Durbin not only demanded that the IRS investigate groups he didn’t care for—he boasted about it in news releases that drew the attention of the media. No wonder: Durbin made the demand a month before the fall congressional elections. Subtle!

Schumer, Franken, and Co. also wrote to the IRS, wondering—purely out of idle curiosity, you understand—whether the agency “is investigating or intends to investigate” whether certain groups might be engaging in—gasp!—”campaign activity.” Which groups? Oh, “Elections operations such as Mr. (Karl) Rove’s.” They followed that up a month later with a request that the IRS change the rules governing social-welfare nonprofits.

Of course, Senate Democrats aren’t even hiding their contempt for free speech anymore. They’re openly pushing a constitutional amendment that would repeal part of the First Amendment and allow Congress to regulate political speech.

The IRS’s role in the targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups is entirely worth of investigation and prosecution, if indeed federal laws were broken, and there’s 1.1 million reasons to believe that they were. But the heavy emphasis that House Republicans have placed on the IRS misses who was motivating the agency to go after these groups.

The hope that House Republicans could implicate the White House in the scandal may have been pushing them to focus so much on the IRS. But the encouragement and prodding the agency received from Senate Democrats is big and bad enough on its own to show that there were political motivations behind what the IRS was doing.

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