Sillier and Sillier

More Details on IRS Approvals

06.12.13 5:21 PM ET

In the column that went up this morning, which sits just below this post, I made reference to an analysis of the IRS tax-exempt status decisions from the period in question. I just mentioned it in passing because I didn't have the space to go into it, but I wanted to go into it in more detail, because I think it really shows what a nothing this "scandal" is.

This study is by Martin Sullvan of Tax Analysts, a nonprofit web site that does thorough news and analysis of everything tax-related from around the world. I confess I've never heard of the place until last week, but it doesn't sound very Kenyan or socialist to me. Anyway, Sullivan finds that "a substantial minority" of applications held up to heightened scrutiny were from non-conservative groups. It's a little confusingly written, but the last sentence is the one that matters:

The IRS has helped somewhat by releasing a list of all the "centralized" groups (that is, organizations whose applications were referred to specialists for closer review) that were granted tax-exempt status as of May 9, 2013. Though the overlap between the subset and the full set of centralized groups isn't perfect, the list suggests that the majority of groups selected for extra scrutiny probably matched the political criteria the IRS used and backed conservative causes, the Tea Party, or limited government generally. But a substantial minority—almost one-third of the subset—did not fit that description.

So you have to ask yourself, what sort of political conspiracy to silence the other side is one-third directed at its own side? I know, I know, there's always an answer. They did that one-third for cover, Tomasky, you stooge! Right.

The report is a little unclear on exactly how many applications the IRS put under special review, but it looks to be in the neighborhood of 470. Of those, 176 were approved. And of those, 122 were from conservative groups. So clearly, conservative applications were approved at a pretty high percentage rate—indeed, perhaps higher than liberal groups.

Sullivan notes that based on groups' applications, it's not always that easy to tell which side groups are on. He used his judgment, but he included the texts of each application, so that readers can look at them and use their judgment too. So you can have a look for yourself.

In any case, this whole thing is just looking sillier and sillier. New IRS director Dan Werful says his report will be out by the end of the month. We'll see. My guess? An overzealous (and yes, probably liberal) IRS lawyer overreacted to this flood of applications. And that's as far and high as it went. I also guess we will learn that this zealous person did have reason to act as s/he did to some extent, because a sudden flood of groups that sound they are playing in the field of electoral politics seeking to get nonprofit status should raise some flags.