Politics & Policy

Investigation IDs IRS Leaker

But the law he broke actually prevents NOM, the victim, from learning more.

A House committee investigating the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of right-leaning groups has identified the IRS agent who leaked the confidential donor list of the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative organization that opposes gay marriage. NOM’s donor list, contained in a Form 990 Schedule B, which it is required by law to file with the IRS, was obtained in March 2012 by its chief political opponent, the Human Rights Campaign, and subsequently became the subject of several national news stories that centered on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s donation to the group.

#ad#Though the House Ways and Means Committee, which began investigating the scandal in the wake of revelations that the IRS had inappropriately singled out conservative groups, has identified the individual who divulged the information as an employee in the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, it can’t divulge his name to the public or to NOM. It can’t even confirm when the leak took place, whether the perpetrator was disciplined, or even whether he is still employed by the IRS or the U.S. government. That’s because of a peculiarity of the Internal Revenue Code’s section 6103, which is intended to protect the confidentiality of taxpayer information. The law makes it a felony to disclose tax returns or related information to the public, but in an odd twist, the results of investigations conducted by congressional committees or by inspectors general are considered the confidential tax information of the alleged perpetrator.

Having committed a felony by disclosing NOM’s donor list, the perpetrator is protected by the same law he broke. “I am astounded at the ease by which an individual was able to obtain and release confidential information including private citizens’ names and addresses,” House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) tells National Review Online. “What makes the situation even worse is that the law, intended to protect taxpayers, is being used as a shield for those that perpetrate this wrongdoing.”

Camp’s panel, nonetheless, has pieced together the NOM case and tells NRO that an IRS agent working in the Exempt Organizations Division — the same division that, until May, was under the direction of Lois Lerner, who retired under duress last month — leaked NOM’s Schedule B to Matthew Meisel, a former employee of Bain & Company, the management consultancy where former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney worked in the 1970s and 1980s and where he served as interim CEO in the early 1990s. Between his stints there, Romney founded the private-equity firm Bain Capital in 1984. After he obtained NOM’s donor list from the IRS employee, the committee says, Meisel then turned it over to the Human Rights Campaign. Neither Meisel nor the Human Rights Campaign returned calls seeking comment.

NOM’s confidential Schedule B was cited and posted publicly in a March 30, 2012, report on the Huffington Post and quickly spread to outlets including the Daily Beast and New York magazine. The emergence of Meisel, a 2007 graduate of Harvard University, and his connection to Romney’s firm may shed light on the motivation behind the leak, which was used to hammer Romney for supporting California’s Proposition 8.

In the midst of the presidential election, the Huffington Post cited NOM’s donor list, which it had obtained from the Human Rights Campaign, in a story arguing that Romney, through his super PAC, had donated thousands of dollars to NOM just weeks before California voters went to the polls for a referendum on Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the state. Though Romney had made no secret of his opposition to gay marriage, the Huffington Post said that by making the donation through his PAC, he had taken pains to conceal his financial backing of the controversial initiative. (All of the PAC’s expenditures and donations were publicly available information.)

The document leaked by the anonymous IRS employee contained the names and addresses of all those who gave money to NOM in 2007. In testimony before Congress, NOM chairman John Eastman accused the IRS of publicizing the list “to facilitate the intimidation of donors.” He talks of a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” against the organization’s financial backers that has included boycotts of their business, physical assault, and the vandalizing of private property.

Now, he tells me, “A number of donors are concerned about their names being disclosed.” He said in his testimony that the harassment “has now pervaded across the nation every time our donor list is disclosed to the point that our donors tell us ‘We are fearful of giving money to you to help support the cause that we believe in because our businesses and our family are at risk.’”

The Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1958 case National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama that organizations like NOM have the right to keep their membership and donor lists private. Alabama, after seeking to banish the NAACP from the state, demanded a list of the group’s members, including their names and addresses. The Court ruled that forcing private groups to disclose that information interfered with their ability to “pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate feely with others” and violated the Fourteenth Amendment. “It may induce members to withdraw from the Association and dissuade others from joining it because of fear of exposure of their beliefs shown through their associations and of the consequences of this exposure,” wrote Justice John Marshall Harlan.

Eastman, in this case, is calling for more from the government: He wants the Department of Justice to prosecute both the unnamed IRS leaker and Meisel, the recipient of the leaked documents. “This should be a relatively simple matter,” he says. Also a professor of constitutional law, Eastman is point-blank. As if reading from the statute itself, he tells me, “Any person who inspects or discloses a tax return and knowingly is not authorized to have it is guilty of a felony, and we expect the Department of Justice to seek an indictment.” Only if Eric Holder’s DOJ does take up the case will the veil of privacy and the protection afforded by section 6103 be lifted.

— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More