I Knew What Obama Did Last Summer
It is a shame that President Obama was too busy last year to follow the news. Had it been otherwise, Obama would have learned a lot sooner that the IRS was targeting conservative non-profits and, more generally, that his Administration and its allies were trying to silence his opponents. For example, I reported on the intimidation last summer in articles at Breitbart.com and FOXNews.com after Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell spoke out about the problem.
Here I take a look back at those articles as a reminder that the IRS scandal is neither new news nor an isolated problem. Sen. McConnell described the breadth and gravity of the problem in my June 2012 FOX News piece:
“There is a growing threat to political speech in America,” warned Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in a speech in Washington, DC last week. “Sadly, a growing number of people on the left … appear to have concluded that they can’t win on the merits. So they’ve resorted to bullying and intimidation instead.” McConnell focused on “an [Obama] administration that has shown an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence [conservative] groups.”
When I talked with Sen. McConnell last summer (transcript at Breitbart.com), he suggested a Nixonian comparison that was startling at the time but is now commonly heard in the wake of the IRS, Benghazi, and FOX/Associated Press scandals:
SEN. MCCONNELL: … The White House knows who their enemies are and they’re going after them and using the power of the government to do it or using their campaign to do it. And the appropriate analogy I assure you is Richard Nixon and his enemies list.
Sen. McConnell specifically mentioned the IRS’s targeting of conservative non-profits, as described in my August 2012 Breitbart article:
Among the examples [McConnell] cites are … the IRS’s demand that dozens of Tea Party-affiliated groups turn over their attendance lists, meeting transcripts, and donor information. NAACP v. Alabama, the landmark 1958 Supreme Court decision that protected the civil rights group from similar demands and affirmed the freedom of association, be damned.
Ironically, I was reminded of the NAACP case the other day when Julian Bond, former chairman of the organization, defended the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups, calling the groups “overtly racist” and “the Taliban wing of American politics.” Apparently, Bond is either unaware of one of his organizations biggest Supreme Court cases or he is too cynical to care about the obvious hypocrisy.
Even if the President shared Julian Bond’s ignorance that Supreme Court precedent prohibits the Tea Party targeting McConnell described last summer, Obama should have been aware that there were problems at the IRS a year ago when the IRS leaked the tax return of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) – a pro-traditional marriage organization – to a gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign. The leak was hard to miss because it resulted in the Huffington Post outing dozens of NOM donors.
By the time of my June 2012 Fox News article, the IRS’s bias against conservative groups was well enough established for me to make the following conclusion:
Angered by the American Legislative Exchange Council’s support of "Stand Your Ground" laws, left-wing groups are coordinating a campaign against ALEC, which includes an IRS complaint challenging its tax-exempt status. These groups have every reason to expect the IRS will give the complaint high priority.
The cozy relationship between the IRS and groups on the Left was further confirmed last month when left-leaning ProPublica revealed that the IRS gave them nine pending confidential applications of conservative non-profits that were not supposed to be made public. No such applications from liberal groups were leaked to ProPublica.
Perhaps the coziest relationship of all between the Obama Administration and left-wing groups involves the White House itself. During my interview with the GOP leader last summer,
McConnell also call[ed] attention to the long-running weekly conference calls between White House officials and David Brock’s Media Matters, a left-wing group that the Obama campaign has cozied up to despite its anti-Semitic rants and anti-Christian mission statement. Media Matters focuses on running corporate intimidation campaigns aimed at silencing conservative media, so it’s not hard to guess what’s on the conference call agenda.
The White House’s relationship with Media Matters is one reason Sen. McConnell had no doubt that the intimidation of conservative groups begins at the top rather than with rogue employees at federal agencies. “[T]his Nixonian fixation on enemies begins in the White House and reverberates out from there,” he told me.
We may never know if the President personally ordered the IRS to target conservatives. But after Obama called the Tea Party “tea baggers” in 2009, were explicit orders to discriminate against Tea Party groups and their allies really necessary?
The IRS’s misconduct concerning the donor lists of conservative non-profits reflects the Obama Administration’s almost hysterical obsession – fueled by Citizens United and the Koch Brothers – with outing those who contribute to conservative advocacy groups. As I noted in the Breitbart piece,
Sen. McConnell hearkens back to [the Watergate] era in describing the obsession of Barack Obama and his allies with forcing non-profit advocacy groups to disclose the names of their donors. “[W]hen they say they want disclosure, what they really mean is we want the opportunity to go after those on our enemies list. It’s quite reminiscent of Richard Nixon … It’s a genuine threat to free speech.”
Billionaire Frank VanderSloot knows firsthand what it’s like to be on Obama’s enemies list. In the wake of the IRS scandal, the two IRS audits and one Labor Department audit VanderSloot faced after contributing to the Romney campaign in 2012 are finally getting attention. But Obama could have learned about the intimidation of Romney donors a year earlier simply by reading his own web site. As reported in my August 2012 Breitbart article,
McConnell told me that large donors to the Romney campaign are near the top of the President’s enemies list. The Obama campaign attacked eight of those contributors on its web site, accusing them of having "less-than-reputable records,” of "betting against America," and worse. The charges are unfounded but the message is clear: contribute to Mitt Romney and the President will put your name on a virtual “Wanted” poster.
McConnell made it clear during our interview that it wasn’t just the Obama campaign that was targeting Republican donors. He explained that the Obama Administration “had agencies of the government – the IRS, the FEC, the FCC – going after donors trying to shut them up, intimidate them off the playing field.”
It is important to emphasize that discrimination against conservative groups occurred across a host of Obama Administration agencies. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor noted last month that the bias even extends to Freedom of Information Act requests. “A study shows that the EPA has been granting waivers to FOIA fees [only] to groups that are from the left," Cantor said. But the White House did not need this study to know about the FOIA bias. I pointed out in the June 2012 FOX News piece that
The benefits of having friends on the inside are well illustrated by a freedom of information request filed with the FCC by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an organization handsomely funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros. CREW requested a pile of documents concerning Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which includes Fox News. The FCC, otherwise known for responding slowly and withholding many documents under exemptions for privacy and the like, delivered CREW’s documents in less than a month.
The only question is whether the FCC’s expedited processing for CREW reflects the Administration’s sympathy for Soros-funded groups, its dislike of Fox News – see Eric Holder’s targeting of Fox News’s James Rosen – or both.
It is also important to emphasize that the harassment of conservatives comes not just from the Obama Administration, but also from like-minded allies outside the Administration, especially when they get their hands on conservative donor lists. Consider the harassment suffered by supporters of Proposition 8 in California, as described in my Breitbart article:
After opponents of a California ballot initiative prohibiting gay marriage publicized the addresses of the initiative’s supporters, many supporters suffered property damage or received threats of violence or death, including envelopes containing a white powdery substance. It’s no wonder so many on the Left, under the cover of campaign finance reform, are anxious to extend federal donor disclosure requirements to non-profit social welfare groups that express an opinion at election time.
When I asked Sen. McConnell last summer about fighting back against the Left’s assault on free speech, he described it as an uphill battle:
I asked Sen. McConnell how those on the President’s enemies list can fight back against harassment by the IRS and other arms of the Administration. Tea Party groups “don’t have much money,” he cautioned. “They’re up against the State here … They’re confronted with a [Hobbesian] choice between compliance and getting hung, or not complying and getting subjected to [legal] costs that they can’t afford.”
A year later, the prospects of successfully fighting back look a lot better. The bright light that is finally being shone on this Administration’s attempts to intimidate and silence has emboldened Obama’s opponents to fight back in the courts of law and the court of public opinion.
Curt Levey is a constitutional law attorney and the President of the Committee for Justice in Washington, DC. He can be reached on Twitter at @Curt_Levey.