Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

05.30.13

Boy, the Head of the IRS Went to the White House A Lot

The Daily Caller reports that Shulman visited more often than the Health and Human Services Secretary

Last week, conservatives were saying that former IRS head Douglas Shulman had been to the White House 118 times, while his predecessor had visited the Bush era White House only once.  I didn't write about it because I idly assumed that this reflected some underlying change in administration management style or legislative priorities; perhaps, for example, he'd been there talking about Obamacare implementation and changes in tax enforcement.  

But the Daily Caller has now compiled a list of White House visits by various administration officials, and Shulman sure does seem to visit a lot more than other folks.  

If Obamacare was driving this, I'd expect to see Kathleen Sebelius had had more visits than Shulman.  (Interesting that, in fact, the Commerce Secretary goes to the White House more than the Secretary of HHS.)  If it was tax policy, I'd expect to have seen Geithner there more often.  

I think the administration needs to explain this.  Not because I think that Obama called Doug Shulman into his office to tell him to persecute the Tea Party.  That explanation is unlikely for all sorts of reasons:

1.  Delaying perhaps 100 applications for 501(c)(4) status did not meaningfully impact the election.  I'm not minimizing what happened to those groups; it's absolutely outrageous that the IRS told its workers to be on the lookout for the words Tea Party and Patriot in the names.  But I can't believe that it was a deliberate political strategy, because there's no way such a strategy would have worked.  It's moronic: all cost and no benefit.  And whatever you think about Obama's political strategists, they are definitely not morons.

2.  If they were having secret, clandestine meetings to order grossly illegal behavior, it would probably be foolish to have them in the White House, where the visits would be recorded.  Much easier for the staffer to meet in the IRS, or a nearby Starbucks.

3.  Why on earth would it have taken 118 meetings?  Did Doug Shulman not understand "target the tea party" the first 117 times Obama said it?  

Nonetheless, I think the White House should explain this.  Maybe the Daily Caller has missed people who came to the White House more often, or otherwise made a mistake with the data.  Or maybe they haven't.  But presumably the administration knows why Shulman was there--there will be day planning entries, memos, meeting notes, and so forth.  Since I presume that these meetings were innocent, they should release them.

Though I don't think that the administration was involved in some sinister conspiracy, I do think that conservatives have legitimate reason not to trust that the laws of the land are being impartially applied to them.  This sort of thing doesn't help.  The administration needs to move to restore confidence by being as open and transparent as possible.