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Save Some Pinocchios for NPR and the NYT


Over at the Washington Post, fact-checker Glenn Kessler awarded IRS employee Lois Lerner four Pinocchios for her comically false claim that the agency had seen a “big uptick” in 501(c)(4) applications as a partial explanation for IRS targeting. The reality? The Inspector General report showed that 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) applications both declined from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010. In other words, the IRS implemented its targeting poicies not in response to a “flood” of applications but instead as part of a deliberate policy in a period of modest decrease.

Someone needs to tell NPR and the New York Times. Here’s NPR in a weekend report focusing on the very few liberal groups that were improperly questioned by the IRS:

The year 2010 began a busy period for the IRS office in Cincinnati, the home of the tax-exempt determinations unit. That January, the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision, which loosened the rules governing contributions to political causes and candidates. Applications flooded in to the office from groups seeking tax-exempt status, many with a political agenda.

And here’s the New York Times in its big weekend story:

Flood of Applications

In recent years, the office’s biggest headache was not the rising tide of political groups seeking tax exemptions or the growing calls from Washington lawmakers, chiefly Democrats, demanding closer scrutiny of big-spending political operations claiming tax-exempt status. The office was consumed with a different problem: a tweak Congress had made to the tax code that threatened more than 400,000 nonprofit groups around the country with an automatic loss of tax exemption, potentially putting some out of business, according to a report by the Taxpayer Advocate Service, which handles complaints about tax cases. Tens of thousands of such groups had reapplied for exemptions, overwhelming the office with queries and paperwork.

The rules governing those traditional charities, known as 501(c)3 groups, are relatively clear. But after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision on campaign financing freed corporations and unions to spend money on elections, hundreds of new applications began to arrive from Tea Party and other organizations. Most sought a different status, 501(c)4, under which “social welfare” nonprofit groups may engage in a limited amount of election activity without registering as political action committees and disclosing their donors.

Once again, for posterity, here are the actual numbers: In fiscal year 2009, there were 65,179 501(c)(3) applications and 1,751 501(c)(4) applications. In fiscal year 2010, when the unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination began, there were 59,486 501(c)(3) applications and 1,735 501(c)(4) applications. Nine out of ten mathematicians agree: In 2010 there were fewer applications than in 2009.

I consider myself to be rather cynical about the government and its motives, but I’m just not cynical enough. Nor am I cyncial enough about the MSM. I continue to be amazed at the IRS’s brazen falsehoods, and I continue to be amazed that “elite” press outlets swallow that spin whole. From the beginning the IRS knew that we at the ACLJ (my represents 27 tea-party groups) and others involved in the dispute had documents in our possession conclusively demonstrating that the controversy wasn’t limited to Cincinnati, nor was it confined to low-level employees. They knew the true numbers of tax-exemption applications. Yet they lied anyway.

Apparently the administration believes if it can spin a false tale to just enough press partisans and low-information voters, it can ride out virtually any storm. That belief will soon be put to the test.


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