The Conversation

Flashback: Lois Lerner Said IRS Was Under Pressure to 'Fix' Problem of Political Money

Lois Lerner appeared briefly before Rep. Darrell Issa's Oversight Committee Wednesday morning and once again asserted her 5th amendment right not to answer questions. But back in October 2010 Lerner did speak to a group of at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and came as close as she ever has to admitting a possible motive for the IRS targeting of conservative 501(c)(4) groups.

During a Q&A, Lerner answered a question about the impact of the Citizens United case on the flow of money in politics. Lerner said that "everyone" was "screaming at" the IRS, adding that they "want the IRS to fix the problem."

Since Breitbart News published the video of Lerner last August it has been adopted as part of the case made by the Majority Staff of the Oversight Committee against Lerner. In September a Majority Staff report cited the video and quoted it.

A key underlying question raised by the original Breitbart News report and the Majority Staff report issued by Issa is whether or not the pressure which led to the targeting of Tea Party groups came behind closed doors or through public channels. Here's is what I wrote last August:

Contrary to Lerner's statement, everyone did not object to the Citizens United decision. The pushback was clearly partisan with the most high profile opponent being President Obama himself. Days after the decision, Obama used his weekly radio address to attack the ruling saying it would "open the floodgates" to special interest advertising in elections.

A few days later Obama castigated the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address. Speaking to a national audience with members of the Court in attendance Obama stated, "Last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates to special interests including foreign corporations to spend without limit in our elections."

 The President's State of the Union reference to Citizens United ended with a call for Congress to reverse the decision by law. The so-called DISCLOSE act was given strong backing by the President throughout 2010 in an attempt to stop what Democrats saw as a flood of campaign money. The White House blog describes the President "pounding his hand on his pedestal" as he advocated for the act's passage in the summer of 2010.

I appeared on Larry Kudlow's show in August and added to the list of strong statements the President had made about the threat represented by Citizens United. I suggested this would probably not be a case where a smoking gun email was found because none was needed. The President and the White House were loudly and clearly letting everyone know how they felt about money flowing into the 2010 elections through 501(c)(4) groups. It was a case of the President asking: Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest? Evidence in the IG report suggests strongly that news coverage of the issue is what got the ball rolling at the IRS.

An opinion piece by Bradley Smith published by the The Wall Street Journal last week amplified the same argument. Smith writes "The political pressure on the IRS to delay or deny tax-exempt status for conservative groups has been obvious to anyone who cares to open his eyes. It did not come from a direct order from the White House, but it didn't have to." This is followed by a series of 15 bullet points highlighting the very public campaign which the mainstream media has largely failed to connect to the targeting scandal.

Case in point, Politico has a story today which mentions the video of Lerner discussing pressure on the IRS but which doesn't offer much to explain where that pressure was coming from. Politico does note that people within the IRS continued to alert Lerner that the problem persisted for several years after she first highlighted it.

Concerns about social welfare groups following the rules continued for years, according to emails the report. In June 2012, Roberta Zarin, a liaison for the tax-exempt division, sent Lerner a Mother Jones article entitled “How Dark Money Groups Sneak by the Taxman,” which called out conservative groups including American Action Network, Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and Citizens United.

[...]

The new Oversight report comes many months after the panel released emails quoting Lerner in a February 2011 email calling the “tea party matter very dangerous.” Those also included an email where Lerner commented on an ongoing FEC face-off with a conservative tax-exempt group engaging in politics writing, “perhaps the FEC will save the day.”

The question of exactly what Lerner did or did not do remains an open one so long as she refuses to testify about her activities. But her possible motive for political shenanigans is easier to discern.  Lerner felt the pressure being placed on her by the White House. Just as importantly, she agreed with the content of that pressure, i.e. that Citizens United was a problem, one which needed to be fixed. In Lerner's view someone needed to "save the day."


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