Published DateIf you're covered in political stink, it might be prudent to avoid yelling "dirty politics" at others.
Lately, a mess of right-wing tea party groups have been wailing nonstop that they have been targeted, harassed and denied their civic rights by partisan, out-of-control, Obamanistic IRS thugs (no adjective too extreme when assailing Obama or the IRS). The groups certainly are right that it's abhorrent for a powerful agency to run a repressive witch hunt against any group of citizens just because of their political views. After all, liberals have frequently felt the lash of such official repression by assorted McCarthyite-Nixonite-Cheneyite forces over the years, and it must be condemned, no matter who the victims.
In this case, however, the right-wing groups were not targeted by government snoops and political operatives, but tagged by their own applications to be designated by the IRS as 501(c)(4) "social welfare" groups. This privileged status would allow them to take unlimited bags of corporate cash without ever revealing to voters the names of the corporations putting up the money. The caveat is that 501(c)(4)s are supposed to do actual social welfare work and cannot be attached to any candidate or party, nor can politics be their primary purpose.
Forget what the rule says, though. Such notorious political players as Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have cynically set up their own pretend-welfare groups, openly using them as fronts to run secret-money election campaigns. Suddenly, hundreds of wannabe outfits were demanding that they be given the special hide-the-money designation, too, brazenly lying about their overt political purpose. Some even asserted that they were engaged in no political activity, when their own websites bragged that they were.
It was these groups' stupidity and audacity that prompted the IRS inquiries, and their current hissy fit about the agency is really just a PR effort to let them continue their "social welfare" fraud.
I think of a "social welfare charity" as being an altruistic enterprise, like The Little Sisters of the Poor — not the avaricious Little Koch Brothers of the Plutocracy.
Yet the brothers have created their very own 501(c)(4) charity, which they used last year as a political front group for funneling $39 million into campaigns against Democrats. Interesting, since, the law bans these tax-exempt entities from spending more than 49 percent of their funding on political efforts to promote their "issues."
Yet, there they are — hoards of political (c)(4)s, mostly right-wing, operating primarily as political pipelines for secretly gushing corporate money into raw, partisan campaigns. Their hocus-pocus lawyers and congressional consiglieres have badgered the IRS into handing them the (c)(4) get-out-of-jail-free card, then defied the agency to stop them as they dump millions of corrupt dollars into our elections.
For example, American Action Network, a "charity" created by Wall Street lobbyists, has spent two-thirds of its revenue on elections, including putting up $745,000 from secret donors to elect Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. How ironic, then, that Johnson is now one of the tea party mad dogs howling at IRS officials.
It's scandalous, Johnson shrieks, that some tea party groups have not been given (c)(4) status, because IRS agents have had the temerity to question whether the groups actually are charitable enterprises — or just rank political outfits fraudulently posing as charities.
While tea party groups should not be singled out for IRS scrutiny, neither should they be allowed to cheat in elections by shamefully masquerading as Little Sisters of the Poor. That's the real IRS scandal.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)