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Ongoing Series: When the Left and Right got it horribly wrong.

These days it's hard to remain objective. When you're inundated with news on all sides, it feels nice and cozy just burrowing yourself deeper in your echo chamber. Once there, it gets easier and easier just to go with what confirms your beliefs. But alas, we all must remain vigilant in the face of the onslaught of agenda pushers and outright falsehoods that litter our news feeds, especially when it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

With that said, here is the first entry in my ongoing series where the left and right got it horribly wrong.

Claim: The IRS is targeting conservative groups.
Conclusion: Wrong

Back in 2013 reports surfaced of an alleged targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. In 
an era where Obama and the Democrats reigned supreme, this was a godsend to the Republican establishment. The claims, as many were convinced, were that while most non-profits could obtain tax exempt status with relative ease, those with a clear conservative bent were being targeted and denied such privileges solely based on their politics. 

For years, conservatives ranted and raved about alleged prejudicial treatment by governmental agencies. But now they had "proof." Congressional Republicans rejoiced.

Republicans. Rejoicing.

What really happened.

In establishing a non-profit, what's of vital importance, and frankly the only metric anyone gives a damn about, is 501c status. There are several levels to this, but it’s mainly just an overly complicated (the IRS and over-complicated? Ya don't say!) way of saying an organization is tax exempt.

But how is this determined? Well that's where things get a little hairy. Historically, religious organizations for example (e.g. churches) have always been tax exempt and therefore automatically meet the requirements outlined in 501c. But with other groups, this distinction becomes more difficult to ascertain.

Previously, the essence of an organization that received this exemption would have to demonstrate a value to the "common good.” But that's a difficult metric to quantify. My common good and yours may differ greatly.

I think giving children violent video games supports the common good. Give me money IRS!!

Further stipulations for exemption status went on to include a variety of other non-profits, but could not include “action organizations,” political lobbies, or those who stood to influence legislation.

For instance, is an organization that funds protests of abortion clinics providing for the common good? Is such an entity non-political? Many would argue yes. Abortion=bad. Protest of abortion=good. But this is where an agency, bloated and inefficient as the IRS is, who's literally just supposed to collect taxes, gets caught in a political hell storm.
The other catch was that in providing exemption status to any group, the IRS was not only saving an organization copious amounts of money in taxes they'd otherwise have to pay, but in a way tacitly approving of the organization's stated goals.

So the story goes, groups found that they were being flatly denied this exemption status. In airing these grievances, a great many of whom found that it was quite often an organization with conservative leanings. And that was all that was needed to stoke the flame of an inter-governmental conspiracy meant to snuff out conservative non-profits that we'd ALL known existed for time immemorial.

But as mentioned above, many of these groups weren't as cut and dry as something like the Salvation Army (though this whole month I've had to sneak in and out of grocery stores).
Groups with “Tea Party” in the name were automatically flagged for “further review.” But then again, so were several liberal organizations, such as one called “Emerge America.”

Conservative pundits and politicians alike foamed at the seeming pattern of right-leaning groups being denied exemption status. They ignored, however, the real pattern: The IRS didn't even know HOW to determine which groups could be approved anymore. So they just let the applications sit in the "further review" pile, gathering dust, hoping organizations like "You ain't gone sell my baby fetus parts!" would just forget they applied.

The real lesson here kiddos, is to think long and hard when naming your organization something that sounds sketch af. The IRS don’t play that mess. Also they're a glorified collection plate and have no capacity to judge such a ambiguous standard.
What was ultimately found in several independent investigations of these claims by a bipartisan committee of the United States Senate[3], the friggin’ FBI [2], and the DOJ[1] wasn’t quite as sexy as a mass conspiracy against conservatives.
What they found was that the IRS, an inefficient bureaucratic institution meant to collect taxes, performed poorly in determining if organizations were literal charities.
Color me shocked.


2. Officials say no evidence criminal charges warranted so far in IRS targeting probe
3.  Bipartisan Investigative Report as Submitted by Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Wyden, p. 6, from Senate Report 114-119, The Internal Revenue Service's Processing of 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) Applications for Tax-Exempt Status Submitted by "Political Advocacy" Organizations From 2010-2013 (August 2015).