The IRS may be “an independent enforcement agency with only two political appointees,” in the words of White House press secretary Jay Carney, but its employees are represented by a powerful, deeply partisan union whose boss has publicly disparaged the Tea Party and criticized the Republican party for having ties to it.
The White House continues to insist that profound incompetence, not partisan malice, led the IRS to single out conservative groups applying for nonprofit status. If the testimony of acting commissioner Steven Miller is true, incompetence was certainly a factor. But given all that has come to light about the agency and its employees in recent days, it would be hard to believe that its targeting of conservative groups wasn’t also politically motivated.
As the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney and others have pointed out, the agency’s employees are heavily engaged in politics and lean considerably to the left. Records show that IRS employees in 2012 donated more than twice as much to the Obama as to the Romney campaign. Nearly two-thirds of all employee contributions over the last three elections cycles have gone to Democrats.
This individual activity is tame compared with that of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents 150,000 federal employees across 31 agencies, including the IRS. The union endorsed Obama in both of his presidential runs and operates a political-action committee (PAC) that has donated $1.63 million to federal candidates and committees since 2008, more than 96 percent of it to help elect Democrats. During that period, IRS employees have contributed more than $67,000 to the PAC.
This past cycle, the union spent heavily on competitive House and Senate races. (In light of the recent scandal, the National Republican Campaign Committee is calling on Democrats to return NTEU contributions.) The union’s members participated in other ways as well, by “educating and organizing various types of activities around the country including candidate nights and volunteering for campaigns.”
Colleen Kelley, the union’s president since 1999, worked as a revenue agent for the IRS for 14 years, and her political leanings are clear. She has given nearly $5,000 to the NTEU PAC since 2007, and she donated $500 to John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004. If her public statements are any indication, Kelley thinks none too highly of the Republican party, especially its more conservative elements such as the Tea Party.
In March 2011, when Congress was in talks over a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown, Kelley slammed the “extreme elements” of the GOP for insisting on meaningful reductions in federal spending. “For months, budget negotiations have stalled in Congress as House Republicans have succumbed to extreme Tea Party elements rather than coming to common sense compromises,” Kelley said in a statement. “You have to be from Wonderland to believe that you can make severe cuts in government spending without sending the economy into a tailspin and cutting critical services Americans depend upon.”
Kelley was highly critical of Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) most recent budget proposal, which called for a reduction in the federal work force as well as reforms to benefits and pension programs for federal employees. “The Ryan budget proposal would worsen our nation in so many ways,” she said in March 2013.
Kelley appears to wield considerable influence in Democratic circles and the Obama administration. Under her leadership, the NTEU has spent nearly $7.5 million lobbying the federal government. Since Obama took office, she has been to the White House at least eleven times to meet with high-ranking officials such as Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to visitor logs. She has also met directly with the president and the first lady.
In November 2010, President Obama nominated Kelley to serve on the Federal Salary Council, an “obscure” panel that nonetheless “performs a vital role in recommending raises for most federal employees,” as described by the Washington Post.
The Hill in a May 2012 profile observed that Kelly “has had a hand in every major deficit negotiation” since Republicans retook the House in 2010; she “has tangled with the Tea Party and gone up against GOP standard-bearers Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.).”
“There is no doubt that when we look at the implications of various budget proposals, we seek her input,” Representative Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the leading Democratic on the House Budget Committee, said of Kelley.
As lawmakers continue to investigate the IRS scandal — House and Senate committees will hold additional hearings this week — Republicans will be eager to learn more about Kelley’s knowledge of the IRS targeting of conservative groups and about the extent to which union members may have been involved. In a letter to IRS employees, Kelley said she believes “no one intentionally did anything wrong,” and promised to “work to ensure that front-line employees are not treated unfairly.”
She has already cast doubt on the Obama administration’s claims that the IRS targeting of conservative groups was carried out by a handful of “front-line” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati field office. “No processes or procedures or anything like that would ever be done just by front-line employees without any management involvement,” Kelley told the Associated Press last week. “That’s just not how it operates.”
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.