This post was originally published on Forbes Aug 7, 2015
I burned the midnight oil Wedenesday and got up early yesterday to finish reading the Senate Finance Committee's snappily titled report - The Internal Revenue Service's Processing Of 501(c)(3) And 501(c)(4) Applications For Tax-exempt Status Submitted By "Political Advocacy" Organizations From 2010-2013. I actually found it pretty compelling. Yesterday when I looked at other coverage I realized I had missed the most significant part of the report. In the "Additional Republican Views", they mention Bristol Palin (I had noticed that, but did not realize how significant it was). Just for an example USA Today leads with Senate Report IRS' Lerner Also Targeted Briston Palin. Silly me.
What Does Bristol Plain Have To Do With The IRS Scandal?
The section of the report where this revelation is included is titled "Lois Lerner's Management of the EO Examination Unit Reveal Her Political Bias Against Conservative Organization". In the subsection "Lois Lerner Intervened in Audit Decisions Involving Political Organizations" we have
Teen Pregnancy Organization Affiliated With Bristol Palin
Another example of Lerner’s interest in conservative organizations occurred in 2011, when Lerner considered opening an audit of a group with ties to Bristol Palin. There were reports that Palin received $332,500 in compensation from the Candie’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to prevent teen pregnancy. Upon receiving an article containing this information, Lerner took the initiative to ask her senior advisors if the IRS should open an audit of the organization:
"Thoughts on the Bristol Palin issue? I’m curious that a [private foundation] can pay any amount to someone who is not a [disqualified person]? It is a [private foundation] right? Even if it were a [public charity] – would that be private benefit – what are the consequences? I’m asking because I don’t know whether to send to Exam as a referral".
Lerner’s willingness to act on this particular news article – among many that reached her inbox each day – shows that she was paying close attention to conservative politicians and organizations. In its review of nearly 1,500,000 pages of documents provided by the IRS, Majority staff did not find any instances where Lerner referred a progressive organization for audit based on a news article.
Whatever her faults might be Lois Lerner is up on the intersection of pop culture with tax law, although there is some indication that she is either not a careful reader or discerning in her choices of where to read, because she clearly did not grasp what was going on. It seems that her inference was that the Palin clan had started a teen pregnancy foundation, since they had some experience with it. That was not at all what had happened. You actually don't have to go beyond forbes.com to get the story behind the story.
The Bristol Palin Charity Scandal
In 2011 Elisa Doucette wrote a piece title "Bristol Palin Was Paid Seven Times Candie's Foundations".
Apparently, the organization was only able to find $35,000 to grant to charities from the $1,242,476 donated from the public. Meanwhile, the young Ms. Palin managed to pull in a $262,500 paycheck for her role as an ambassador for their teen pregnancy prevention campaign in 2009. Other celebrities affiliated (past and present) with The Candie’s Foundation include: Hayden Panettiere, Beyoncé, Ciara, Jenny McCarthy, Vanessa Minnillo, Ashley Tisdale, Hilary Duff, Ashlee Simpson, Usher, Rachel Bilson, and Teddy Geiger.
That got me interested in The Candie's Foundation. The criticism of how little Candie's Foundation grants to more on the ground organizations fighting teen pregnancy is probably unfair. The Candie's Foundation was founded in 2001 which may well be before Bristol Palin was even having impure thoughts. The way they fight teen pregnancy is through the media. And there was that period there where Bristol Palin was about the most famous teen mom going. Here is a sample of her work for the Foundation.
It never occurred to me that famous people who do public service announcements about their afflictions get paid for doing them, but apparently it is a thing. I'll have to remember to contact the National Psoriasis Foundation when I get famous.
What Does This Say About Lois Lerner?
I think the Republicans have busted her on this one. That email really is evidence of reflexive anti-conservatism. Certain liberals have a Pavlovian response to the Palin clan. The only thing that gets them to jump up and bark better is mention of the Koch brothers, but there does not seem to be anything funny about them. Conservatives seem to have more triggers - Jesse Jackson, Hillary Clinton, Benghazi, but the same principle is at work.
What Does This Say About The Scandal?
So what we have is a reflexive anit-conservative appointed to head the IRS Exempt Group during the Bush administration by an IRS Commissioner appointed by Bush. Is it possible that the big money Republicans figured that they had the IRS exempt group outgunned, but that a reflexive anti-conservative in that position would be tough on the more conservative part of the party. The other thing that the report mentions is that during the whole period of the scandal no audits of exempts were initiated over the political spending issue. So the established dark money organizations were let off scot-free. All the grief went to the Tea Party insurgents who were least able to cope with it.
Remember Lois Lerner Is Not The IRS
The other thing that comes out in the report is that Lois Lerner did not like the line IRS people who were doing the mundane work of the agency and they did not feel supported by her. Paul Streckfus, editor of the EO Tax Journal, in his email update had issues like that as his major take-aways
Personalities matter. Lois Lerner and Steve Miller were not good at interpersonal relations. Ignoring and insulting employees does not engender an enthusiastic and loyal workforce. I'm disappointed in Lois in that she let herself appear so blatantly political. No one at the IRS should be required to be apolitical, but anyone holding the office of EO Division Director should maintain an air of neutrality, no matter how one feels. I'm also very surprised how far the division has fallen in terms of effective leadership, that the “leaders” there during the "scandal" were really clueless and unwilling to demonstrate any sense of urgency.
Paul missed the Bristol Plain thing too. That's what happens to tax geeks. We lose touch with popular culture.