Shifting Blame for the IRS Scandal

The IRS scandal, which really is, at its core, about speech and privacy and the seemingly evergreen call of many lawmakers for a new and burdensome disclosure regime, has apparently sparked the interest of many campaign finance reformers as a sort of justification for a new look at reform. It seems Nancy Pelosi, as reported by Politico, will be the first spokesperson to tout the reform line in the wake of the scandal (although, given the relative bad luck spokespeople for this administration have had lately, I might be wary of taking the job):

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi condemned the Internal Revenue Service for targeting conservative groups in a statement Monday, and also used the opportunity to push for campaign finance reform.

“There needs to be more clarity in the law regarding the activities of tax exempt organizations along with greater disclosure and transparency,” Pelosi said in the statement Monday.

“We must overturn Citizens United, which has exacerbated the challenges posed by some of these so-called ‘social welfare’ organizations. And we must take appropriate action, without any delay or hesitation, to ensure that the IRS remains an impartial agency for America’s taxpayers and our nation’s families and businesses,” she added.

It is a bit soon to start asserting that the IRS “remain” an impartial agency when, at least if the allegations are true — and they must be, given the apology — the whole scandal revolves around the fact that they were not acting impartial at all. And to blame Citizens United — presumably because the decision was instrumental in allowing for the creation of some of these groups the IRS was overzealously interested in — is tantamount to asserting that we shouldn’t have left the steak on the kitchen counter if we didn’t want the dog to eat it. That’s a troubling line of thought because it assumes that 1) the good people at the IRS are simply not in control of themselves and couldn’t resist the bait of so many new groups to target; 2) that somehow the only groups that sprung out of the Citizens United decision were conservative groups since they were the only ones targeted; and 3) it denigrates the decision of the Supreme Court — the highest court in this land — in their desire to preserve speech. Something that the IRS scandal retroactively PROVES was necessary.

In any event, most of the calls to examine the IRS scandal through the lens of a second look at campaign finance reform are coming from outlets — at least thus far — that lean a little more favorably toward the current administration, at least as far as campaign finance is concerned. They are worth a read, but primarily because it will be important to know the arguments that are likely to be made in future while trying to make a directed, impartial targeting of certain groups seem fair.


“IRS Mess Adds to Campaign Finance Free For All” — Politico

“IRS Scandal could Blunt Potency of Campaign Finance Reform” — Buzzfeed

“The IRS’ Role in Campaign Finance Is an Awkward, Unhappy Accident” — Atlantic

“IRS Scandal Reignites Campaign Finance Debate” — Roll Call





The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.