In addition to the IRS’s particular interest in right-wing groups focussed on domestic policy, it has taken an unusual interest in right-wing pro-Israel groups. (I am friends with the leader of the group written about in the link.)
One major question raised by the IRS scandal is where these ideas came from. At least as far as Jewish groups go, the IRS scrutiny is not a fluke. That is not to suggest it was ordered by the White House – that is highly unlikely. At the same time, it certainly does not come out of the blue. The past several years have seen a concerted campaign in the mainstream liberal press to bring the IRS down upon certain pro-Israel groups, particularly those that support activities in the West Bank (or the Territories Formerly Occupied By Jordan).
For example, in 2009 David Ignatius had a story in the Washington Post, A Tax Break Fuels Middle East Friction. “Critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns,” he wrote. The Guardian in 2009 also had a piece calling for IRS action.
In 2010, the New York Times continued the theme with a massive, expose-style front page story, which concluded that while such tax breaks do not seem to be exactly illegal, it creates :a surprising juxtaposition: As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.” The article then tried to raise questions about whether such groups really satisfied U.S. tax-deductible requirements, suggesting the IRS should look into them. The activities the supported, the Times article suggests, were illegal and extremist.
Picking up the gauntlet, J Street called on the IRS to “probe” groups that support settlements, despite there being no apparent violation of tax laws involved.
And last year, an op-ed in the Times by Peter Beinart argued that “we should push to end Internal Revenue Service policies that allow Americans to make tax-deductible gifts to settler charities.”
This is just a sampling: the notion that right wing Jewish groups should be “probed” by the IRS because they do not line up with President Obama’s (former?) absolutist anti-settlement policy is not a new one. All the organs of intelligent opinion agreed that some generally right wing Jewish groups need to be dealt with by the IRS because they contradict government policy, not because of any evidence of tax fraud. And surely IRS bosses read the Post and the Times; it may even be their “absolute truth” as Times editor Jill Abramson memorably put it.
It would be interesting to find out whether the particular groups mentioned in these articles received any unusual requests from the IRS: I’d love to know either way.
Of course, there may be no direct connection between the campaign for such audits, and the action the IRS in fact took. But nor can one say the IRS action came out of nowhere, was some random frolic and detour.
Similarly, the action against Tea Party groups is not surprising. If one reads that they are racist, dangerous groups, then one might think their tax status is worth looking into.