IRS Source: No Way Low-Level Paper Pushers Acted on Own—"There has to be a directive"


Last week, I pointed to a story by a Cincinnati Fox affiliate in which Queen City-based IRS agents said they were following orders to conduct ideologically specific scrutiny of groups applying for nonprofit tax exemptions. At least five employees from the Cincinnati office, which was apparently largely in charge of determining status requests, are going to be testifying before Congress.

As Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner notes, a recent Washington Post story quotes an unnamed IRS worker from the same office thus:

"We're not political," said one determinations staffer in khakis as he left work late Tuesday afternoon. "We people on the local level are doing what we are supposed to do. .?.?. That's why there are so many people here who are flustered. Everything comes from the top. We don't have any authority to make those decisions without someone signing off on them. There has to be a directive."

Higgins also notes that it's far from clear how many "determinations" staffers the IRS has, with estimates ranging from as low as 140 (according to former acting commissioner Steven Miller in congressional testimony) to as high as 900 (according to the Wash Post).

One thing that seems very clear: The IRS story has a long way to go before it's played out. There is zero evidence linking any of the extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups to the Obama administration, much less the president himself. But the real scandal is already out there, playing out in plain sight: The IRS is already an object lesson in granting the state more power, even or especially under the guise of a straight-up, by-the-rules bureaucracy.

Reason on IRS.

NEXT: Two FBI Agents Killed in Training Exercise

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Oh, Gillespie. You and your wild, tea party conspiracies. When has this administration ever – EVER – used its office to intimidate opponents?

  2. Bush did it!

    1. That is not fair, preempting the trolls like that!

      1. Bush appointed some dude so the whole thing is Bush’s fault!

        Besides, Romney wouldn’t have been any different!

        Tulpa said so!

      2. pre?mpting


        1. “pre?mpting”

          I thought that was an Austrian thrash-metal band of the late 1990s?

  3. Anyone who has ever worked in government will tell you that. In my experience the bureaucracy is surprisingly apolitical. And further, it is incredibly conservative. There is not a lot of individual initiative going on. The idea that a bunch of low level employees would risk their life time tenured jobs by targeting political groups on their initiative is absurd. Moreover, if there were such people out there, why did this not happen before 2010? Why were they not doing it all along? Why all of the sudden in 2010?

    1. They were doing it all along. The use of tax law to harass groups and individuals the government doesn’t like is an old COINTELPRO trick from Edgar J. Hoover’s playbook.

      1. The IRS might have. But there is no evidence these people were. And further, if Bush had been using the IRS to harass liberals, I somehow imagine we would have heard about it.

        And yeah, they did it under Nixon and Johnson and before. But it generally stopped after Watergate. And it really did. Sorry, I am not buying the every body does it bullshit. No, everybody doesn’t do it and hasn’t done it.

      2. The use of tax law to harass groups and individuals the government doesn’t like is an old COINTELPRO trick from Edgar J. Hoover’s playbook.

        And they left the execution up to freelancing bureaucrats?

        1. I don’t get where you think I’m asserting that in my statement.

          What I’m trying to imply is that there are a bunch of departments with fingers in this pie, including the notoriously corrupt Dept. of Justice, and the Executive himself.

    2. I still don’t think this would put a low-level employee’s job at risk. Worst case scenario for them is getting a reprimand and a move to a different position. It is damn near impossible to fire a career “civil servant”. Political appointees can take the fall for this kind of thing (and they should because they are usually the ones in charge), but the little guys can get away with stuff like this.

      I agree that this policy likely came down from on high, but I will not be surprised if it turns out some low level guy just thought it was the best way to get the job done.

      1. We’re talking about an organization that actively discourages taking initiative.
        I’m thinking that it had to have come from someone close to the top.

        1. …”I’m thinking that it had to have come from someone close to the top.”…

          I donno how far up is came from, but it sure wasn’t the GS-3 over there in cubical A-35.

      2. Yes it would. It is put out from day one that such things will cost you your job. This is probably the one thing that will cost someone their job. It is also criminal. It just wouldn’t happen as it has been portrayed.

      3. We’ll see what actual evidence turns up, but I find it perfectly believable that there are mid-level politicos in every agency, emboldened by an inflated sense of importance, who might act for no other reason than because they read something at ThinkProgress or HuffPo.

    3. Here’s one libertarian political scientist who disagrees with you.

      Also make sure to check out the comments.

    4. John, is it possible it did happen but went undetected?

      1. Unlikely. I think everyone here understands that the press generally give a much bigger pass to the left than to the right. If it had happened under Republican administrations, it would have been reported. And don’t forget that the Bush administration was Enemy #1. Massive scrutiny. I’m amazed it’s being reported, considering the press’ coziness with the Obama administration.

        1. At what point does intimate coziness become collaboration?

          The only reason we’re hearing about any of these scandals is due to missteps the Obama administration has made with the news media over the last few years.

          Surely, the administration will learn from it’s poor decision making and the mass news outlets will quickly return to it’s collaborative relation with this current regime.

    5. Because of newly realized hyperpartisanship, and the extremism of the Tea Party! These are such unique times!

      /talking point

      1. Yea, and rethuglicans!

    6. What do you mean all of a sudden? The IRS is an agency that uses notoriously vague guidelines to help it leap from one arbitrary decision to the next. And you ask “why all of a sudden”. Don’t the blinders you wear ever get in the way while you’re tongue-punching this administration’s testicles?

  4. I don’t understand why them didn’t simply neuralyze everyone when this started to break. The (real) Men in Black are slipping.

    1. The (real) Men in Black are slipping.

      Or, this is their real plan.

      Also, RACIST!

  5. “There is zero evidence linking any of the extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups to the Obama administration, much less the president himself.”


    I guess it depends on if the press will dig or not. Fox News might not be able, as their folks appear to be under watch.

    1. That seems pretty damning if it’s acurate.

    2. As you cite, some ratfucker is sure to “find” something.

      1. Ratbaggibg teafucker! CHRISTFAG!!

    3. American Spectator? Are they somehow related to Fox or Koch? If so, dismiss it. It’s ‘evidence.’


      1. Yeah, its not like they were looking at visitor logs and public statements or such!

  6. it’s far from clear how many “determinations” staffers the IRS has, with estimates ranging from as low as 140 … to as high as 900

    This kind of ignorance about objective aspects of the government is, um, unacceptable.

    I do not understand why congressional investigators do not say to the head of the IRS: “There’s a phone and internet access on the table in front of you. You have five minutes to tell us exactly how many ‘determinations’ staffers the IRS has.”

    1. “But don’t you understand? We’ve set up our entire system to make it impossible to answer such a question!”

      Sharpening guillotine blades.

      “You now have four minutes and twenty-five seconds.”

      1. Sorry, a guillotine has only one blade.

        My bad.

        Also – ELIMINATIONIST!

        1. Sorry, a guillotine has only one blade.

          The Gillette “Mach 5” series of guillotines have several blades to decrease irritation and provide a cleaner shave.

          1. “Giving leaders the decisive edge”

  7. “…I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and used the IRS to bankrupt and imprison our political rivals. “

    1. Dissent is the highest form of Racism.

      1. Well, until another Republican gets elected President.

    2. Who wrote that? Cola di Rienzo?

  8. Of course there was a directive. There were dozens of them, in the form of speeches by Obama and other Democrats that demonized Tea Partiers and accused them of nefarious activities.…..80800.html

    1. now you’re just nitpicking!

  9. People are magically stripped of venal personal motivations and partisanship when they enter government service. Any policies pursued by the IRS are based strictly on social benefit.

    Don’t you guys know anything?

  10. But Steve Chapman told us that it was all just low-level people doing this and there was no directive coming from anyone higher up.

    Therefore I conclude that this is all unpossible.

    1. Since we don’t have a recording of Obama clearly ordering the persecution of these groups in unambiguous terms, Obama is clearly innocent and not nearly as bad as Nixon.

      1. We do have those recordings!

        The archives at Hit & Run are full of posts denouncing the White House for demonizing the Tea Party in the media.

        That’s all that needs to happen. That’s how the Tsar used to unleash pogroms.

        It’s interesting that, for instance, when Gabrielle Giffords gets shot, the left blames Sarach Palin for it because of her irresponsible statements in the media, but when the IRS goes after Tea Party groups, oh that has nothing to do with what the president (their boss) says on television–you need a smoking gun email or phone call recording to prove anything?


        1. Because Barack is dreamy.

          1. I appreciate he’s dreamy to some but…

            You know what this reminds me of?

            When I was in boarding school, we were going trough the backward masking moral panic. They were concerned that our minds were being controlled by messages in metal that were played backwards. So, they brought us into an assembly room, and they started playing us all these records backwards so that we could hear the awful messages hidden in them that were controlling our minds. And one of the records they played was by a band called “Venom”. Venom wrote “Black Metal”, and their record is why everyone calls Black Metal “Black Metal”. They went for as evil as they could with the lyrics.

            So, anyway, I’m sitting there in that assembly thinking, “You spent all day listening to Venom records backwards to find something really evil? Have you bothered to listen to all the evil shit their lyrics say played forwards?!”

            That’s how I feel about this. Everybody’s looking for some hidden email, some secret evidence that Barack Obama told the IRS to go after the Tea Party. When he did it LIVE ON TELEVISION IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY like a hundred times! I bet Gillespie himself wrote posts denouncing the White House for demonizing the Tea Party in the media!

            There’s no need to play Obama’s speeches backwards.

            1. Those who think Obama dreamy are nightmares.

              1. Also, I don’t understand why people think he’s such a great speaker and motivator. I come from the world of science (not exactly known for its outgoing personalities) and see better speakers on a daily basis.

                1. First impressions are hard to break.

                  He made that speech at a Democrat convention–I think it was Kerry’s? And he used a style you typically see, quite frankly, in black churches.

                  Religious people and people in the South grow up hearing speeches like that–it’s called a “sermon”. And after you’ve sat through a couple of hundred of them, they start to lose their magic. But the liberals in California, New York, and Massachusetts haven’t sat through a couple hundred sermons, so it was all new to them…

                  It was like the first time they’d been to a revival–except the subject wasn’t Jesus. …and it blew them all away.

                  First impressions are hard to live down. And the first speech all those people on the left saw blew them away.

                  That’s all it is. They’ve been coming back to the revival campmeeting ever since.

            2. And here’s what all that stuff by Venom has left us with today:


              1. Yeah, there wasn’t anybody in my preppie boarding school listening to Venom anyway.

                Point is that sometimes the evil things we’re looking for are in plain sight. And there are hours and hours of the president on video–I’m sure–saying all sorts of terrible things about the Tea Party and the people who finance them.

                The “Koch Brothers”, for instance, didn’t become a household word by accident.

                There was a concerted effort to demonize the people who financially supported the Tea Party–emanating from the White House–and the proof was all over television.

                Fact is that Barack Obama, the vice-president, and others in the White House spent a lot of time and effort demonizing the Tea Party and its financial supporters. And the IRS didn’t need any more direct instructions than what Barack Obama was already telling them on television.

                We don’t need Wikileaks to look for the secret email! Just look in Hit & Run’s archives–it’s all there.

            3. Good story and point, but the American Spectator link posted by LTC John above is pretty damning. In a sense it’s just confirmation and icing on the cake, but it will make a difference regarding public opinion. It removes the excuse that Obama’s public statements were just politics and not meant as orders to violate the law.

              I would like to see a detailed timeline of this scandal, including the statements by Obama and others about the Tea Party and the IRS. Taken together, it should make your point quite clear.

  11. No doubt the “baggers” and libertarians out there will attempt to link this story to some larger problem with “big government”. Ha ha.

  12. So there must have been at least one higher-up issuing directives and therefore the low-level drones aren’t at fault here because they were just following orders? Didn’t Godwin have something to say about offering the defense of ‘I was just following orders’?

    But my question is: if the policy of targeting certain groups for extra scrutiny is so manifestly wrong that this is now a huge story, shouldn’t have at least one or two low-level workers recognized the problem and spoke up about it, maybe leaked something to the press? Is it possible that one or two did in fact leak something to the press but the press at the time was not interested in blowing that particular whistle? As interesting to me as ‘what did the President know and when did he know it’ is ‘what did the press know and when did they know it’.

    1. Some Tea Party type in Ohio did say that he had complained to the press earlier and they had dismissed his concerns as paranoia, but recently they had privately apologized to him for not taking him seriously.

  13. “There is zero evidence linking any of the extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups to the Obama administration, much less the president himself.”

    There is plenty of evidence. It just isn’t in the form of a phone call or email…yet. But there was no need for that–since the president was all but giving the IRS instructions live on TV.

    “The president derided “tea baggers.” Vice President Joe Biden compared them to “terrorists.” In more than a dozen speeches Mr. Obama raised the specter that these groups represented nefarious interests that were perverting elections. “Nobody knows who’s paying for these ads,” he warned. “We don’t know where this money is coming from,” he intoned.

    In case the IRS missed his point, he raised the threat of illegality: “All around this country there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are running millions of dollars of ads against Democratic candidates . . . And they don’t have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation.”

    Short of directly asking federal agencies to investigate these groups, this is as close as it gets.…..80800.html

    Why would the IRS need a secret email or phone call from the president when Obama is all but giving the IRS instructions live on TV?

    1. See the American Spectator link posted above: the head of the IRS union visited Obama several times in the White House (and made other visits there), and the day after one such visit is when the crackdown seems to have begun.

      1. I’m not a lawyer, but it looks like a clear violation of the Hatch Act.

        Somebody needs to go get an indictment, and go after the people in that union, but who’s going to do that?

        Eric Holder?

        We need a special prosecutor.

        1. “Somebody needs to go get an indictment, and go after the people in that union”

          Cause those guys aren’t rolling over on Obama unless they have to.

  14. Oh, silly geese. It’s a “scandal” not a scandal. Liberals say so.

    I’m not familiar with the IRS but I love all these people doing a Baghdad Bob-Keystone Cop explaining how these groups should have filed – something about 501s-c’s or something.

    Talk about inserting a strawman. That’s besides the fucking point I reckon. It doesn’t take an American that the taxman doesn’t create a systemic crackdown because you misfiled.

    God, what a bunch of a-holes people can be. Even in this incident they refuse to stand by their fellow citizens.

  15. ‘take an American to understand.’

  16. I miss my old I.R.S. Records t-shirt.

  17. I heard the explanation this week that these were low level bureaucrats trying to find more efficient ways to get through the log of 501c4 applications. Of course, the whole scandal is that the bureaucrats were making more work for themselves by auditing more groups. That anyone could believe that excuse is very depressing to me. Believable, but depressing.

  18. You can bet this goes beyond Tea Party groups and down to the Tea Party individual level. The odds of the officers of these grass-roots Tea Party groups getting their personal returns audited have gotten a lot closer to even.

  19. Not to excuse it, but Nixon’s inclination to engage in such behavior didn’t come out of nowhere. He likely had a Presidential election stolen from him. In his mind, it was a matter of screw the opposition or get screwed.

    1. It really starts with FDR, before him the gov’t was just not big enough to do this kind of thing.

      Coolidge wouldn’t have done it, and couldn’t have anyway with his tiny little 4% of GDP federal government. Herbert Hoover got the big-gov’t ball rolling and FDR scooped that ball up and dunked it in America’s face.

  20. “There is zero evidence linking any of the extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups to the Obama administration”

    Except that directing and controlling the administrative branch is their Goddsdamned job.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.