The Daily Caller fires a blank at Lois Lerner

by Walter Olson on May 16, 2013

The IRS scandal is a genuine scandal, for sure; efforts to portray it as merely a “scandal” within quotation marks, as by the L.A. Times’s Michael Hiltzik, are well answered by Megan McArdle, Patterico, Ed Krayewski, and (implicitly in advance) by this Josh Barro column exploding the notion that 501(c)4 status was somehow intended only for volunteer fire departments and the like and not for politically engaged citizen groups.

Once the scandal momentum gets going, however, people start in on all sorts of efforts to connect dots that may not have any necessary connection or even qualify as dots at all. Example: at the Daily Caller this morning, reporter Patrick Howley is out with a story headlined, “Embattled IRS official Lois Lerner’s husband’s law firm has strong Obama connections.”

Curious, I read on to see which law firm with strong Obama connections Lerner’s husband, an attorney named Michael Miles, is a member of. It turned out to be Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, a pillar of the Atlanta legal establishment known for its strong tax practice.

Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan is a so-called BigLaw firm. Per the American Lawyer’s profile, it has 387 lawyers and represents all sorts of clients, with an emphasis on corporate work across a wide range of industries.

So what’s the evidence that Sutherland has “strong Obama connections” or is tight with White House Democrats? Here it is: according to Howley, the firm:

hosted a voter registration organizing event for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, praised President Obama’s policy work, and had one of its partners appointed by Obama to a key ambassadorship.

Really? In a 387-lawyer BigLaw firm, those are the strongest Obama links Howley was able to come up with? As with virtually all BigLaw firms, Sutherland has attorneys active in both parties who host events favorable to one side or the other. It took me only a minute or two on search engines to confirm that Sutherland lawyers and alumni are quite successful in landing prominent appointments under Republicans. Here’s a 14-year Sutherland alum (though he’d moved on to other employers in the interim) who served as National Executive Director of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney in 2000 and went on to a distinguished career as ambassador appointed by that administration. Here’s a Sutherland attorney (“top lawyer at the Pentagon for six years”) nominated by President George W. Bush to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Of course, some BigLaw firms do have a distinct coloration that falls toward one side of the political spectrum while tolerating the occasional maverick from the other. Is this true of Sutherland? I consulted the Open Secrets database and found that in the last election cycle the firm’s lawyers donated $41,700 to Mitt Romney and $35,413 to Barack Obama. In Congressional races, the firm’s lawyers donated $38,040 to Republican candidates and $25,350 to Democrats. The biggest recipient by far in the Congressional races? Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who got $16,250 from Sutherland lawyers. Overall, these figures would rank Sutherland as not a particularly heavy hitter among law firms in federal donations. Twenty other law firms’ attorneys gave upwards of $1.2 million in the last election cycle, mostly leaning much more toward the Democratic side than did the donations from Sutherland’s attorneys.

I suppose “Embattled IRS official Lois Lerner’s husband’s law firm has strong Ted Cruz connections” would have made for too confusing a headline on a Daily Caller lead story.

{ 5 trackbacks }

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1 jesse spurway 05.16.13 at 11:54 am

Perhaps congress should spend some time detailing in the code what they expect 501s to cover. Be helpful in the long run.

2 Anonymous Nicholas 05.16.13 at 1:50 pm

Yes it’s a scandal. A tiny, eensy-weensy little scandal, pretty much exactly the same as the scandal that the USPS doesn’t deliver packages marked “atheist”. It’s the kind of thing that is wrong, and should be corrected, but anyone who seethes with outrage over it should probably get out of the house and get some perspective.

At least the atheists filled out all the requested paperwork and weren’t trying to cheat the tax code, two things that can’t be said for the “Tea Party/Patriot Charities”, a concept I’m still trying to figure out.

3 athEIst 05.16.13 at 2:19 pm

“mostly leaning much more toward the Democratic side than did the donations from Sutherland’s attorneys.”
Well the sentence is true, especially since from the data given Sutherland leaned 4 to 3 to the Republican side.

4 Walter Olson 05.16.13 at 3:44 pm

You must find it frustrating, A.N., that such voices as the New York Times and Boston Globe editorial pages, President Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid — several of whom are rumored to get out of the house frequently — have all acknowledged in recent days that this scandal is anything but “tiny” or “eensy-weensy,” and that not even the Times has been so bold as to presume all the little tea party clubs to be cheats simply because they seek the same c4 status that is routinely accorded bigger and more established ideological nonprofits like the ACLU, NRA and Sierra Club.

The Globe in its editorial provides a pretty good example of how to write a liberal response to the scandal that avoids minimizing the seriousness of what went wrong, and also avoids the touch of unearned condescension that so often grates.

5 gitarcarver 05.16.13 at 3:44 pm

It’s the kind of thing that is wrong, and should be corrected, but anyone who seethes with outrage over it should probably get out of the house and get some perspective.

Well, I am one of those people. I shudder at the thought that the IRS – or any agency of the US government – applied different standards to different groups. I seethe with outrage that the IRS used it power to target any specific group. Whether that group leans to the left or the right matters not one iota to me. It is the targeting that matters.

And yes, I am incensed that the head of the IRS lied about the practice and how far it went.

I would suggest that given the power and weight behind the IRS, anyone who sees their asking people what books they read or who they associate with simple because of a political association needs to gain some perspective as well.

6 Walter Olson 05.16.13 at 5:59 pm

Also, welcome to readers from Andrew Sullivan (whose angle on this inevitably differs from mine to some degree, since I gladly contribute to the Caller from time to time); Above the Law; John Steele, Legal Ethics Forum; and Evan Schaeffer, Legal Underground.

7 Lou 05.17.13 at 1:41 pm

I am in favor of the IRS ensuring bogus nonprofit groups not receive the favored nonprofit status. However, looking at a letter sent to one Tea party group really got me thinking about the hoops they had to jump through to prove the legitimacy of their status. (See: ) Just look at the burdensome amount of information the IRS required of their group and the short turn around time demanded of them. It appears to indicate some sort of bias that should be investigated.
Is this the tip of the ice berg?
As far as I’m concerned the IRS has no business using its tax policies or enforcement power as means of intimidation for political reasons, NO MATTER WHICH PARTY IS IN OFFICE. Such practices should be nipped in the butt. Are we to now have heads of key agencies appointed by bipartisan or multi-partisan committees to keep politics out to ensure the “fair” treatment of all citizens and citizen groups? Boy, that would cause many agencies to grind down to a snails pace!

8 elhombre 05.21.13 at 5:05 pm

It is particularly troubling that even in the face of IRS officials and other Democrats acknowledging IRS wrongdoing so many people of the left imply – or insist – that the wrongdoing is on the part of the Tea Partiers. Trying to cheat on their taxes don’tcha know?

For the lefties, political dissent from their narrative must involve some kind of crime. How unfortunate for the nation.

9 Sniffit 05.23.13 at 12:54 pm

“It is particularly troubling that even in the face of IRS officials and other Democrats acknowledging IRS wrongdoing so many people of the left imply – or insist – that the wrongdoing is on the part of the Tea Partiers”

That’s BS. All this article does is point out that the Daily Caller was making crazy, hyperbolic accusations in order to inflate the importance of the scandal AND manufacture a false narrative that there are political connections, conspiracies and undercurrents to this.

10 petunia 05.23.13 at 6:17 pm

I’d say that an ambassadorship is a pretty big connection! Wow.

11 William 05.24.13 at 2:18 pm

I assume, Petunia, that you’re referring to the Sutherland lawyer given an ambassadorship by the Bush-Cheney administration?

12 derfallbright 05.25.13 at 9:21 pm

It seems to me that Congress needs to move quickly here because I feel this issue descending into a politician food fight.

I have read comments where both side are taking positions that are unjustified by the facts. (as they are known today)

At the lower end of the IRS this is not a complex investigation. Interview the people at the bottom of the organization and work your way up. It doesn’t matter if you end up with 50 people on Administrative Leave while you sort out who is guilty of what, vs. just some people who were trapped in a bureaucratic system where they were forced to go along to maintain their job. That will become obvious during an investigation.

This can not be allowed to drag on because it is harming the country.

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