After an election in which hundreds of millions of dollars were funneled through “dark money” nonprofit groups by people like Karl Rove, campaign finance advocates fear the nascent IRS scandal involving these very organizations will make the already difficult task of regulating them nearly impossible.It didn't bother the right wingers when the IRS investigated the NAACP after it criticized the Bush administration. And it didn't bother them when the IRS investigated a Pasadena, California, church for criticizing Bush. But now that it's been revealed that the IRS has gored their ox, they're up in arms about it.
Organized under section 501(c)4 of the tax code, organizations like Rove’s Crossroads GPS are social welfare organizations that are legally barred from making politics their “primary purpose” — at least in theory. In practice, many of these groups are plainly political, but the IRS has never defined what differentiates an improper political group from a bona fide social welfare group, so they’ve been able to flout the intent of the law with impunity. With growing public awareness after the 2012 election, campaign finance reform advocates thought they may be able to finally get the IRS or Congress to impose some new rules. But scandal may blow all of that up.
“The IRS is not really in a position right now to rewrite the rules that apply to social welfare organizations. And it’s not going to be the right time for that for at least a little while,” Lisa Rosenberg, a government affairs lobbyist at the Sunlight Foundation, told Salon. “Everything they do now, at least in the near future, is going to be glossed with this taint of impropriety.”
It's early yet to have any idea where this story will go. We know, of course, that the Republicans will push it and the other fresh scandal—on wiretapping journalists—at least as hard as they have pushed the faux scandal of Benghazi® for the past seven months.
This time, however, many Democrats, including some who have not heretofore been critics of the administration, will surely be asking some tough questions of their own. As well they should. What's intolerable when done under a Republican administration is not just as intolerable under a Democratic administration. It's worse. We have a right to expect better behavior. We have plenty of past and recent examples to the contrary and this cannot be allowed to be written off as mere partisanship on the part of Republicans. They will certainly use it to partisan advantage. But that doesn't make it a non-issue.
The best that can come out of both these scandals are quick-and-thorough, get-to-the-bottom-of-it probes into what happened, why it happened and who made it happen. Followed by some personnel departures no matter how high they reach.