by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A group of conservative lawyers who have been investigating the origins of the IRS scandal for the past year-and-a-half say they’ve uncovered the real roots of the IRS scandal — and they’ll surprise both liberals and conservatives alike.
The group, Cause of Action, which has subpoenaed thousands of pages of documents from the agency and is still embroiled in litigation with it, says the targeting of conservative groups resulted as much from IRS personnel merely following the instructions laid out in their employee handbook, the Internal Revenue Manual, as from any political bias at the top.
When the scandal broke nearly two years ago, the IRS and the Obama administration pointed the finger at a few bad apples in the agency’s Cincinnati office. The agency’s inspector general blamed the inappropriate targeting of tea-party groups on the “ineffective management” of top bureaucrats. Many reporters, particularly on the right, including here at National Review, concluded that top D.C. official Lois Lerner and her colleagues in the IRS’s Exempt Organizations office had orchestrated events from the outset.
Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, is a former attorney and investigator for the House Oversight Committee. He and his team, a group of 13 attorneys funded by the Koch brothers’ sprawling network of donors, say none of these stories fully explain what happened at the IRS between 2010 and 2014 and that, in fact, the targeting was baked in the cake. That is, the Internal Revenue Manual, the handbook by which IRS employees are required to abide, mandates the sort of scrutiny that delayed the processing of the applications of hundreds of conservative nonprofit organizations. Cause of Action has laid out its case in a confidential, 35-page memo obtained by National Review. They concluded that many of the IRS officials involved in the scandal were just following the rules.