If there's one thing that the Obama administration's IRS/Tea Party scandal has done, it's unite a large sector of the media in a collective skepticism of many of those involved. On Monday morning, the Washington Post showed just how far that skepticism is creeping when it published a blistering fact-check of the IRS and the department head in charge of the exempt organizations division, Lois Lerner.
The determination? "Four Pinocchios."
"In some ways, this is just scratching the surface of Lerner’s misstatements and weasely wording when the revelations about the IRS’s activities first came to light on May 10," the Post concluded.
So how did the Post get there? We examine below.
1. Lerner claimed that the targeting of Tea Party groups happened after the passing of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and applications for 501(c)(4) status doubled.
But this claim of “more than doubled” appears to be a red herring. The targeting of groups began in early 2010, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United was announced on Jan. 21. The ruling paved the way for political groups to apply under a tax-exempt status known as 501(c)4. Most charities apply under 501(c)3, but under 501(c)4 nonprofit groups that engage in “social welfare” can also perform a limited amount of election activity.
But it turns out that these are federal fiscal-year figures, meaning “2010” is actually Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010, so the “2010” year includes more than three months before the Supreme Court decision was announced.
In other words, while there was an increase in 2010, it was relatively small. The real jump did not come until 2011, long after the targeting of conservative groups had been implemented. Also, it appears Lerner significantly understated the number of applications in 2010 (“1500”) in order to make her claim of “more than doubled.”
2. Lerner said she only heard out about the targeting from the press.
But the IG timeline shows this claim to be false.
According the IG, Lerner had a briefing on the issue on June 29, 2011, in which she was told about the BOLO (“Be On the Look Out”) criteria that included phrases such as “Tea Party” or “Patriots.” The report says she raised concerns about the wording and “instructed that the criteria be immediately revised.” She continued to be heavily involved in the issue in the months preceding the new reports, according to the timeline.
3. Lerner said she never addressed the issue before because she was never asked.
Not true, says the Post. In fact, just two days before Lerner planted a question on the issue so the IRS could come clean, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) gave Lerner a chance to talk about it on Capitol Hill:
"She provided a bland answer about a questionnaire on the IRS Web site, failing to take the opportunity to disclose the results of the probe," the Post said.
You can read the full fact-check here, including the Post's point about the IRS's reaction.