“The Nakedly Transparent Flouting Of The Tax Laws”: Washington Misses The Point On The Tea Party And The IRS
My pixels have been absent from these precincts while I report a feature story for The Nation, and I’ll have more to say about the ersatz Scandalpalooza being ginned up by Republicans this week, but for now I wanted to drop a quick word about just how overblown the outrage is about the Internal Revenue Service flagging groups with “Tea Party” in their name for extra scrutiny when they apply for 501(c)(4) status. Jeffrey Toobin, in a New Yorker post called “The Real I.R.S. Scandal,” succinctly explains the legal background:
It’s important to review why the Tea Party groups were petitioning the I.R.S. anyway. They were seeking approval to operate under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. This would require them to be “social welfare,” not political, operations. There are significant advantages to being a 501(c)(4). These groups don’t pay taxes; they don’t have to disclose their donors—unlike traditional political organizations, such as political-action committees. In return for the tax advantage and the secrecy, the 501(c)(4) organizations must refrain from traditional partisan political activity, like endorsing candidates….
Particularly leading up to the 2012 elections, many conservative organizations, nominally 501(c)(4)s, were all but explicitly political in their work. In every meaningful sense, groups like Americans for Prosperity were operating as units of the Republican Party. Democrats organized similar operations, but on a much smaller scale. (They undoubtedly would have done more, but they lacked the Republican base for funding such efforts.)
So the scandal—the real scandal—is that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way.
Just how sustained and open a way? Well, in June of last year I reported from the closing weekend of the recall campaign against Republican governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin:
I drive to a microscopic town next to Racine, where a giant open field was a stop on the bus tour in which Americans for Prosperity, the fake grassroots group that fronts for the Koch Brothers, was shipping supporters from, among other places, Illinois, to these here rallies around the state. Not, they claim, to support the Walker campaign—that would violate election law—which they had nothing to do with, but just in the interest of “educating folks in the importance of the reforms.”
The three hundred or so (though National Review counts differently than me) white people—and one black, who stood precisely in the center of the front row and wore an AFP staff T-shirt—heard an AFP staffer hosanna “economic freedom, limited government, and lower taxes.” And that “even Barack Obama’s Bureau of Labor Statistics” said “we’ve created jobs in Wisconsin.” Then he introduced as an “honorary Wisconsinite,” the head of Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin, Tim Phillips—a Southerner who made a joke about frigid weather. Apparently reverse carpet-bagging is a signal feature of this “grassroots” movement.
Then a third speaker, but I had already wandered off, bored by the conspicuous lack of energy, past a sign reading “Republican’s Are Makers Democrats Are Takers” [sic, of course], and tables featuring free DVDs on both the glories of Scott Walker and the United Nation’s plan to enslave the United States, in the direction of a second, entirely separate, stage across the field put up by the Racine Tea Party. A few minutes later, the rest of the crowd followed me there. For, yes, an entirely separate rally, which had “nothing” to do with the nonpartisan one two hundred yards away that had just ended [wink wink, nudge nudge]. There they heard Walker’s running mate Rebecca Kleefisch rant about the “big union bosses from out of state,” and how the unions were just like Goliath, and her boss was exactly like David.
Me, I fingered my slick Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin flier, which I later noticed contained the most revealing typo in the history of politics. “The forces of BIG GOVERNMENT would like nothing more than for you to DO NOTHING,” it warned, but promised, “We are gathering citizens together from across Michigan to make phone calls, knock on doors and educate their friends, family and neighbors.”
As Toobin points out, this is the real scandal: the nakedly transparent flouting of the tax laws by groups claiming to be nonpolitical and nonpartisan. Count on the media in Washington to entirely miss that obvious point.
By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, May 16, 2013
Say what you will about Politico, but aside from the many bits of useful phenomenological data its vast minions gather each day, it serves as a sort of public utility in instantly and thoroughly expressing the shifting perspectives of the MSM. Today, having misinterpreted and buried the Tea Party Movement a thousand times, Politico (in this piece by Tarini Parti) now takes judicial notice of its return on Capitol Hill:
The Tea Party Caucus is back in action with a new strategy and a growing membership.
Roughly 20 House Republicans attended a closed-door meeting Thursday evening in the Rayburn House Office Building, along with staffers from nearly 40 congressional offices, including those of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
It comes as conservatives continue to flex their muscle, making life difficult for GOP leaders in the House on issues like Obamacare, and as the debate on immigration legislation heats up.
Conservative mainstays such as Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) were among those at the meeting. A source said the entire GOP House delegation from South Carolina was there as well.
Mike Shields, chief of staff to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, spoke at the meeting – an indication that the GOP establishment is making an effort to work with the tea party lawmakers.
Also in attendance: Conservative radio talk show host Rusty Humphries and representatives from organizations including the Tea Party Express and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. TheTeaParty.net organized the meeting, which was closed to press.
The possibility that high attendance at the caucus meeting might reflect a continuing presence rather than a sudden resurgence was indirectly addressed by this quote from Louie Gohmert:
“I thought it was the energy we had when we first started things,” Gohmert told POLITICO after the meeting. “The Tea Party beliefs and movement never really went away. It was just that the caucus wasn’t really having meetings.”
True dat. You could make the case, in fact, that the relative quiescence of the Tea Party Caucus was attributable to its consolidation of power within the Republican “Establishment.” Now that strategic disagreements within the congressional GOP are re-emerging, it’s time to get loud and proud again. But the whole phenomenon shows how shallow all the talk about the GOP “rebranding” and “adjusting to new circumstances” really was–much less the fatuous chatter about “bipartisan breezes wafting through Congress.”
It’s entirely possible, not soon but in the foreseeable future, that the Republican Party and even the conservative movement can genuinely move beyond the “Spirit of 2010″ and begin to act like a political party rather than a wrecking crew. But anyone who has paid genuine attention to the Tea Party Movement must understand that these are people who violently oppose the idea of “moving on” or “adjusting to circumstances.” The whole point of “constitutional conservatism” is the belief in an eternal, perhaps even divinely ordained, governing model that never, ever, goes out of season. Maybe they’ll lose influence in the GOP and the country as a whole, but they aren’t going away or changing. Their periodic rediscovery by the MSM when once again fantasies of a “pragmatic” GOP prove illusory is one of the maddening but abiding aspects of contemporary political journalism.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 26, 2013
“Conservative Shakedown Scam?”: Karl Rove And His “Enemies” Are Engaged In An Implicit Back-Scratching Agreement
I’ve been pretty conspicuous in arguing that the war of words between Karl Rove and Tea Folk over the former’s announcement of a project to stop crazy people from winning major Republican primaries in 2014 did not represent any genuine “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party,” since it’s all about strategy and tactics, not actual ideology, where everyone involved agrees Maintaining Conservative Principles is the eternal North Star.
But still, I’ve shared the puzzlement of most everybody over Rove’s motivations in picking this loud fight, however superficial it ultimately proves to be.
At the Daily Beast, Michelle Cottle has an answer that’s pretty compelling if you understand that for Rove politics is always, always, always about fundraising, his original gig.
Post-election, big Republican donors have been demanding answers as a condition of future support for various groups—and players in the money game report that there has been barking, profanity, and not-so-veiled threats. “I do think you had a lot of donors saying, ‘You have to demonstrate you learned the lessons of the last campaign,’” says the Romney adviser. “Then they want to see measurable results toward that end. ‘What are you doing to make sure you’re not spending money the same old way?’ ”
Rove’s donors were no exception to this trend, meaning he needed to do something to unruffle their feathers. Fast. “This is all about the donors,” says another veteran strategist. And what better way to make a statement to donors than to formulate a brand-new strategy and splash it across the front page of the paper of record? Message: lessons learned. Course correction set. “This is a follow-the-shiny-ball strategy,” the strategist argues. “It’s smart to get donors focused on the future, focused on a new mission right away as opposed to waiting.”
This gambit, moreover, Cottle explains, ensured that Rove would be the center of attention, on Fox and in every other conservative venue, if only to explain and defend himself, at a time when he might otherwise finally be dismissed as yesterday’s news, just like his former boss W.
Now deliberately provoking the ire of the dominant faction of the conservative movement and of the GOP is not the most conventional way to keep oneself in the power loop. But Rove is nothing if not a devious SOB. This is the guy who figured out back in the 1990s that state judicial races were the ideal lever for producing a political realignment in the South because they would split off business leaders from the Democratic donor base while reducing the power and diverting the resources of the pro-Democratic trial lawyers. He’s the master of such two- and three-cushion shots, invariably revolving around money.
But Cottle suggests Rove isn’t the only one playing money games:
Rove isn’t the only one poised to benefit from this spectacle. Even as he pokes purists in an apparent effort to jumpstart his 2014 money machine, the purists are looking to fill their coffers by poking back. “They need their shiny ball strategy too,” observes the veteran strategist. “Everybody is trying to raise money.” And just like Rove, these groups play rough—at times a little too rough. Last week the Tea Party Patriots had to issue an apology for a help-us-fight-Karl-Rove fundraising plea that included a Photoshopped image of their target dressed as an SS officer. (An outside vendor took responsibility for the pic.)
This angle reinforces the broader reality that a lot of the rightward lurch in the GOP over the last two decades is ultimately about money: Republican pols have mainstreamed the violent and extremist language so often associated with direct-mail fundraising appeals in the past–even in intra-party dustups. It would not be surprising if Rove and his “enemies” are engaged in an implicit back-scratching agreement designed to fill everyone’s coffers, and distract attention from the disaster of 2012.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 25, 2013
If Mitch McConnell isn’t conservative enough for you, Matt Bevin may be your guy. The Kentucky businessman is reportedly considering mounting a primary challenge against the Senate minority leader from the right, and has been reaching out to local Tea Party groups to secure support, according to the Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe:
Sarah Duran, president of the Louisville Tea Party, told The Hill that Bevin had been in touch with her over the phone to discuss his run multiple times over the past few weeks, and that he met with the group two weeks ago to discuss his interest in the race. [...]
She added that other Tea Party groups had reached out to Bevin to encourage him to run, and that even “some people that have supported McConnell in the past” had been in touch with him about a potential bid.
Does Bevin have any chance of beating McConnell? Well, he’s wealthy and could presumably fund his own campaign, which would be crucial in taking on McConnell, who is sitting on a prodigious $7 million war chest. And McConnell is fairly weak — the least popular senator in the country, according to a recent PPP poll.
But Bevin’s campaign is a long shot, at best. McConnell is a savvy operator who will have the state’s entire GOP establishment behind him, endless supplies of money, and universal name ID, while Bevin is almost entirely unknown. And McConnell is hardly a RINO despised by the far right like Rich Lugar or other GOP senators who have fallen to Tea Party challenges.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a more moderate, less powerful senator in a more conservative state, held on to his seat last year in the face of a Tea Party challenge. A primary challenge against House Speaker John Boehner fizzled harmlessly as well. Over 90 percent of senators who seek reelection win, after all.
Still, that doesn’t mean that a Tea Party challenge is unimportant. For the movement, a primary challenge can be successful even if it fails, as long as it succeeds in pushing the target further to the right and making him more responsive to the far right’s demands.
And by that measure, Bevin may have already won.
Rumors that the Tea Party might target McConnell started even before Election Day last year, and the Republican leader stepped up his outreach accordingly. In August, he held a large rally with fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who is positioning himself as a national leader of the libertarian and Tea Party wings of the GOP, even though McConnell campaigned against Paul and the two have clashed in the Senate.
McConnell even hired Paul’s former campaign manager, Jesse Benton, to lead his own 2014 reelection bid. Benton also ran Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and has deep ties in the conservative activist community. “The year-long search that ended with Benton’s hiring was a major signal to Republicans that McConnell views support from the younger libertarian and tea party movements as crucial not only to his political future, but also to his party’s prospects nationally,” Politico noted at the time.
The bar is especially high for a leader like McConnell, who would like to not only win, but win by a large margin to discourage future challengers and show strength within his caucus back in Washington. Which is why he seems to be taking the threat seriously.
As he leads his party’s negotiations on sequestration, gun control, immigration and everything else in the next two years, he will know that it’s not just his colleagues’ reelections at stake, but his own as well. And that makes him less likely to cooperate with the White House and more interested in adhering to the hard-line positions set by the growing number of conservatives in his own caucus, whose support he will need next year. In other words, the Tea Party wins, regardless of the primary outcome.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, February 19, 2013
The Tea Party ain’t over. Case in point: last week, former presidential candidate and unflagging conspiracy theorist Michele Bachmann announced that, despite the understandable outcry, she has been assigned yet again to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the new congressional term.
Today, People For the American Way delivered 178,000 petitions to House Speaker John Boehner urging him to remove Bachmann from the Intelligence Committee. Members of the House Intelligence Committee are entrusted with classified information that affects the safety and security of all Americans,” the petition reads. “That information should not be in the hands of anyone with such a disregard for honesty, misunderstanding of national security, and lack of respect for his or her fellow public servants.” Boehner should take these concerns seriously. Instead, he has rewarded Bachmann’s reckless extremism with continued access to classified information and another term on a powerful committee.
This didn’t need to happen and it certainly shouldn’t have. More than a few comedians have pointed out the irony of Michele Bachmann being appointed to the “Intelligence” Committee in the first place. But on the Intelligence Committee the Minnesota congresswoman is no joke. Last year, Bachmann went too far, even by her own low standards, when she urged the Defense and Justice Departments to investigate what she alleged were Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that the Islamist group had achieved Manchurian Candidate-style “deep penetration” into the U.S. government. Her allegations were supported only by her delusionary distrust of Muslim-Americans and by the rantings of anti-Islam activist Frank Gaffney. Meanwhile, she was rebuked by many of her fellow Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, who called the accusations “an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant,” and Boehner, who said the claims were “pretty dangerous.” Even her own former campaign manager Ed Rollins called her attacks “downright vicious” and compared her unhinged witch hunt to that of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Since then, despite having no evidence, she’s hasn’t moderated her rhetoric. At September’s Values Voter Summit, she claimed that a decision by the FBI to stop using flawed anti-Muslim training materials amounted to President Obama enforcing “Islamic speech codes.” In subsequent radio interviews, she claimed that the president wanted to impose Sharia law at home and abroad.
Bachmann of course promotes a wide range of conspiracy theories — including the theory that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation and that people who fill out the census will end up in concentration camps. But her wild claims about anti-Americanism in the halls of government have a direct bearing on her position on the Intelligence Committee and they’re where we should draw the line. Bachmann’s often laughable crackpot theories are no longer funny when they involve our national security.
Apparently Speaker Boehner disagrees. While he made headlines last year for condemning Bachmann’s dangerous crusade, he has yet to take any action to stop it. Bachmann and the Tea Party have proven time and again that they don’t take the business of governing seriously. Boehner and his fellow Republican leaders should stop pretending like they do.
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, January 14, 2013