Despite vigorous efforts from some quarters to establish a “progressives were targeted too” narrative, Jonathan Adler explains why the IRS scandal is “still a scandal (but still not ‘Watergate’).” More: “The Internal Revenue Service scrutinized ‘progressive’ groups less harshly than conservative groups, the Treasury Inspector General said in a letter to Congress this week.” [ABC] Earlier here, here, etc.
- The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law, new book from Yale University Press edited by Frank Buckley, looks quite promising [Bainbridge]
- So the New York Times gets spoon-fed “confidential” (and disappointingly tame) documents from the old Brady Campaign lawsuits against gunmakers, and then nothing happens;
- IRS commissioner visited White House 118 times in 2010-11. Previous one visited once in four years. Hmmm… [John Steele Gordon, more] (But see reporting by Garance Franke-Ruta and commentary by Yuval Levin.) Did politics play role in 2011 Gibson Guitar raid? [IBD]
- Supreme Court of Canada: “Judges may ‘cut and paste’ when writing their judgments” [Globe and Mail]
- Lack of proper land title and registration holds Greece back [Alex Tabarrok]
- I try not to clutter this blog with links to memoir-ish personal pieces of mine, but if you’re interested in adoption, or in how America manages to be at once the most conservative and the most socially innovative of great nations, go ahead and give this one a try [HuffPost]
- Big Lodging and hotel unions don’t like competition: New York City’s war against AirBnB and Roomorama [John Stossel, Andrew Sullivan]
- As Ezra Klein says IRS furor has nowhere to go, more and more keeps tumbling out [Althouse, Examiner, flashback, Chronicle of Philanthropy, MSNBC video, WaPo, WSJ (“Higher-Ups Knew of IRS Case”), Kim Strassel/WSJ]
- Background: partisans on both sides have taken shifting positions of convenience on whether nonprofit political advocacy is abuse of the tax laws or free speech worthy of protection [Dave Weigel] Now if only the IRS would stop behaving like one of the partisans [Scott Walter, NY Post] Ideas for reform [Conor Friedersdorf]
- “A note on 501 (c)4 corporations” [Coyote] Paul Caron/TaxProf latest daily link roundup;
- Apologia for Service’s misconduct does no credit to New Republic or Noam Scheiber [Nick Gillespie]
- Echoing my post of yesterday, Jonathan Adler at Volokh Conspiracy seeks to distinguish between political affiliations of IRS personnel that have some arguable relevance to the scandal, and those that really seem like stretching;
- If you missed it: Cato video, “The I.R.S. Abusing Americans is Nothing New.”
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.
For all with eyes to see (except maybe some folks at The New Yorker) the IRS scandal has been hiding in plain sight for more than a year, I argue in a new Cato post. For example, this site briefly covered the Service’s ridiculously broad documentary demands on Tea Party groups — for things like transcripts of speeches and radio shows and the contents of Facebook and Twitter postings– in March and May of last year.
The Treasury Inspector General’s report on the affair, released yesterday, is here. (Coverage roundup: Paul Caron, TaxProf.) It makes clear that many groups were singled out because of their controversial political stances and then subjected to both objectively unreasonable document demands (e.g., for thousands of pages of documentation) and objectively unreasonable delays (e.g., for two years) in resolving their applications. (The Service seldom if ever actually denied applications from the singled-out groups, perhaps because its actions would then have come under more rigorous court review). Meanwhile, other groups with controversial views of a different political valence were waved through. It is not a question of whether applications for tax exemption should somehow be “approved without question,” as some have contended, but whether they should come under review that is even-handed and with no more delay and regulatory burden than is inherent to the process. At Time, Michael Scherer collects past examples that suggest IRS retaliation against political adversaries is something of a tradition in America. (Similarly: Cato video podcast).
P.S. Defending itself against the Inspector General’s report, the IRS says the applicants flagged for special scrutiny “included organizations of all political views.” It points to three such left-leaning groups — out of 471 in all singled out for extra screening. [Bloomberg via Newser] Much more: Gregory Korte, USA Today (“As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved … the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.”) Meanwhile, L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik is unafraid of going way out on a limb to defend what the Service did: if you don’t want to be harassed for your dissidence, it seems, you shouldn’t have sought (c)(4) status in the first place.
Yet more: Reuters has illuminating coverage of how the Service tried to break one of the year’s biggest stories on a Friday afternoon via a friendly question before a room full of tax lawyers. (“They made a bet that this would be the quietest way to roll it out,” [Eric Dezenhall] said of the IRS strategy. “It didn’t work.”) “Did Citizens United Critics Push the Agency To Misbehave?” asks my Cato colleague John Samples, while Tim Lynch adduces “Some Empirical Evidence of IRS Political Manipulation”. The BBC has a lexicon of political scandal euphemisms (“tired and emotional,” “hiking the Appalachian Trail,” etc.)
The Arkansas plaintiff’s lawyer says he was too embarrassed to make layoffs as his finances turned sour, which is why he stole the $9.3 million in class-action settlement funds [WSJ Law Blog, ABA Journal] Earlier here, here, and here.
More from Kevin LaCroix:
An earlier WSJ.com Law Blog post reported (here) that Cauley was in fact a protégé of Bill Lerach. Today’s article on Bloomberg (here) about Cauley’s criminal sentencing notes that Cauley joins a growing list of plaintiffs’ securities class action attorneys who have “been jailed for felonies,” including Bill Lerach himself and his former law partners, Mel Weiss, Steven Schulman and David Bershad, and including even Marc Dreier.
These gentlemen of course made their living for many years accusing corporate officials of fraud. Ahem. Yes, well…isn’t ironic, don’t you think?
Bringing to a close another chapter in the Scruggs scandals. [WSJ Law Blog]
The Louisville Courier-Journal profiles Angela Ford, who took the lead in exposing Kentucky’s massive fen-phen settlement fraud.