I don't have very much to add to what has already been said, including by Peter Roff and Susan Milligan at this blog and by President Obama in his press conference at the White House today, about the scandal unfolding regarding the IRS targeting conservative political groups. Obama today called it "outrageous" and "contrary to our traditions," said that he would not tolerate it and added that people should be held accountable. He's right.
But because of the gravity of the offense it bears repeating: This is disgraceful and an abuse of power. It must be thoroughly investigated and the appropriate people should be punished.
Susan nails the nature of the scandal: "It is not just a case of malfeasance or financial mismanagement. It goes to a basic contract of trust between the American people and the federal government."
A thorough and aggressive investigation, followed by serious consequences for the perpetrators, is warranted. The taxation system is matched only by voting as an arena whose integrity is critical to our way of government. If people do not believe their votes are being counted fairly, they will cheat or not vote at all. If people do not believe they are being treated in an unbiased manner by the IRS, they will cheat on their taxes or not pay at all.
Not surprisingly, I don't agree with the partisan tenor of Peter's blog post, and I find the initial explanation – that this was driven by clueless/stupid/malicious bureaucrats in Ohio – more plausible than he seems to. Recall that it is the independent Treasury Department inspector general's report which reportedly specifies that the tea party-targeting practice began in the Cincinnati-based office responsible for handling tax exempt investigations. That doesn't mean that's the whole story, but it's also something more than the word of Treasury flacks. But Peter is spot on about how this should be handled:
... no one, not Congress, not the media, and not the American people should take [the explanation] at face value.
I hope this does turn out to be a case of low- and mid-level bureaucratic stupidity. But the American people deserve a thorough accounting, wherever it leads.
Mother Jones's Kevin Drum makes one other good and underappreciated point about this scandal: Not only is it pernicious as an abuse of power, but it's also problematic for the fact that political groups – regardless of philosophical leaning – posing as non-political ones to avoid paying taxes is a legitimate area of investigation.
As Drum writes:
What's really unfortunate about all this is that it will probably put an end to any scrutiny of 501(c)4 groups, and that's a shame. The IRS should be scrutinizing them, and it should be doing it on an ongoing basis. More than likely, though, Congress will step in to neuter them completely on this score, and the current Wild West character of 501(c)4 fundraising will continue unabated.