Corruption is like cancer; it can spread into places you never suspected. In this case, congressional investigators have uncovered correspondence indicating that the IRS’ Lois Lerner had improperly shared confidential tax information about conservative groups with the FEC’s General Counsel’s Office, which, apparently, was improperly investigating those same groups.
Via National Review’s Eliana Johnson:
The correspondence suggests the discrimination of conservative groups extended beyond the IRS and into the FEC, where an attorney from the agency’s enforcement division in at least one case sought and received tax information about the status of a conservative group, the American Future Fund, before recommending that the commission prosecute it for violations of campaign-finance law. Lerner, the former head of the IRS’s exempt-organizations division, worked at the FEC from 1986 to 1995, and was known for aggressive investigation of conservative groups during her tenure there, too.
“Several months ago . . . I spoke with you about the American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization that had submitted an exemption application the IRS [sic],” the FEC attorney wrote Lerner in February 2009. The FEC, which polices violations of campaign-finance laws, is not exempted under Rule 6103, which prohibits the IRS from sharing confidential taxpayer information, but the e-mail indicates Lerner provided that information nonetheless: “When we spoke last July, you had told us that the American Future Fund had not received an exemption letter from the IRS,” the FEC attorney wrote.
The timing of the correspondence between Lerner and the FEC suggests the FEC attorney sought information from the IRS in order to influence an upcoming vote by the six FEC commissioners. The FEC received a complaint in March 2008 from the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party alleging that the American Future Fund had violated campaign-finance law by engaging in political advocacy without registering as a political-action committee. The American Future Fund responded to that complaint in June 2008, telling the commission that it had applied for tax exemption in March of that year and was a “501(c)(4) social-welfare organization that was organized to provide Americans with a conservative and free-market viewpoint and mechanism to communicate and advocate on the issues that most interest and concern them.” According to the e-mail correspondence, a month after receiving the American Future Fund’s response, the FEC general counsel’s office — which is prohibited under law from conducting an investigation into an organization before the FEC’s six commissioners have voted to do so — contacted Lerner to investigate the agency’s tax-exempt status.
The FEC general counsel’s office, in its recommendation on the case, apparently didn’t tell the agency’s commissioners about how it had obtained the information about the group’s tax-exempt status. Recommending that the commissioners prosecute the American Future Fund, the general counsel’s office wrote, “According to its response, AFF submitted an application for tax-exempt status to the Internal Revenue Service . . . on March 18, 2008.” The footnote to that sentence reads, “The IRS has not yet issued a determination letter regarding AFF’s application for exempt status. Based on the information from the response and the IRS website, it is likely that the application is still under review.” In fact, an FEC lawyer knew that the organization had yet to obtain tax-exempt status because Lerner provided the confidential information.
Be sure to read the rest. While the commission voted not to investigate AFF and while there’s no evidence yet that the commissioners themselves knew of the illegal investigation, this is further evidence of, at best, an insouciant attitude at the IRS toward the privacy rights of conservatives, if not downright hostility and contempt. And as for the FEC lawyer, well, I’ll be charitable for now and put it down to an arrogant, cavalier attitude I’ve seen all too often after decades of working within bureaucracies. I can just imagine his reasoning: “Well, we all work for the government, and I need the info, and, besides, we’re going to get this information anyway, once the commission opens the investigation, so a little rule-breaking doesn’t matter.”
Happens all the time.
But that doesn’t excuse it. The Ways and Means Committee wants to know who else was snooped on in this manner, and I imagine they’ll have some hard questions both for Lerner (another pleading of the 5th?) and the FEC. Firing is far too hard to do in the federal government these days, so maybe some budget cutting is in order to drive home the lesson that, “no, you really do have to obey the law.”
And wouldn’t that be a nice change?
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)