Tax Analysts Blog

Paz’s Admissions Fuel GOP Ire, but Don’t Implicate Administration

Posted on Jun 17, 2013
The inappropriate scrutiny of conservative groups’ applications for exempt status was the result of a rogue “conservative Republican” in Cincinnati who, for convenience, decided to focus on the names of organizations. That’s the narrative that Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings would like the media and public to focus on. It also seems to be the story that President Obama would like to see prevail. Unfortunately, testimony by Holly Paz, the former director of rulings and agreements for the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division, contradicts the notion that everything was confined to Cincinnati. Paz’s testimony is damaging to the IRS’s claim that there was no political bias, but neither does it support the GOP’s fears that the president or the White House was involved.

Paz, who is one of a growing number of high-ranking IRS officials to have lost their jobs as a result of the scandal, admitted that she scrutinized some of the earliest Tea Party applications for exemption while she worked in Washington. Some of the 20 to 30 applications that she handled were delayed by over a year because of what Paz described as a miscommunication between Washington and Cincinnati. The Washington office thought Cincinnati was processing the applications, while agents in Ohio assumed that some direction was coming from IRS higher-ups. So much for the idea that one or two employees in Cincinnati took the lead on the whole thing.

Paz, however, rebutted the idea that there was any proactive decision to target organizations. She provided no link to the White House and, according to The Huffington Post and Associated Press, her testimony paints a picture of extreme mismanagement rather than organized conspiracy. Paz also denied there was any political motivation for the IRS’s actions. Incredibly, she claimed that when Washington officials heard the Cincinnati agents talk openly about handling “Tea Party cases,” they simply assumed the term was shorthand for any political group looking for exemption, not just groups directly linked with the Tea Party or conservative causes.

Paz’s assertion that there was no political bias involved in the targeting of conservative groups fits with claims by disgraced IRS officials Steven Miller and Lois Lerner. They have repeatedly insisted that despite all appearances, the IRS agents who subjected Tea Party, patriot, and 9/12 groups to extra scrutiny were not motivated by political considerations. But repeating that over and over doesn’t make it any more believable. As has been said before, it is almost impossible to believe that any IRS agent, either in Washington or Cincinnati, could have been so tone-deaf as to think that using terms that implicated only conservative groups was an acceptable way to apply extra scrutiny to exemption applications. And Paz’s statement that she thought “Tea Party” was shorthand for any politically active organization is patently absurd. No one in 2010, 2011, or 2012 could possibly have been unaware of the political leanings of Tea Party groups.

What is believable in Paz’s testimony is that IRS agents in Washington and Cincinnati were “used to a world where how they talked about things internally was not something that would be public or that anyone would be interested in.” In other words, the IRS didn’t really believe that anything it was doing would be made public, so its employees didn’t concern themselves with eliminating the appearance of bias in their actions. And that’s a major problem – one that both parties need to come together to solve. The nation’s tax collector can’t see itself as so insulated from public oversight and control that it doesn’t think about that it fails to consider how its actions will be perceived by Congress, the media, and, most importantly, the taxpaying public.

Read Comments (1)

edmund dantesJun 23, 2013

Watergate was also a case of extreme mismanagement. Until it wasn't.

The IRS Commissioner meets with the President more than 100 times during the
period when the Tea Parties are specifically targeted, and you think that's
just coincidence? Can I interest you in buying this bridge?

The difference between Nixon and Obama is that Nixon failed in his attempts to
politicize the IRS, while Obama succeeded.

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