Politics
4:27 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

Congressman John Yarmuth Troubled by White House's String of Controversies

Congressman John Yarmuth
Credit U.S. Congress

Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth says the Internal Revenue Service should examine the tax-exempt status of non-profit groups, but the agency failed to apply the policy evenly.

The IRS has been scolded over flagging conservative organizations with "tea party" and "patriot" in their name.

Reports found that at least 300 such groups were put into a "bucket " that received extra scrutiny, which held up applications for months.

Agency leaders have blamed the additional views on two "rogue" employees in their Cincinnati offices.

Yarmuth says the IRS scandal undermines good government and cannot be excused, but argues looking at those groups should be a role the agency fulfills.

"That behavior on the part of IRS is totally intolerable and while I actually think the kind of scrutiny that was applied to these groups is appropriate it should be applied to every 501(c)4. The law has to be enforced evenly and fairly, and the IRS has not done that," he says.

From 2010 to 2012, the number of groups applying for 501(c)4 status as social welfare organizations skyrocketed due in part to the rising Tea Party movement and Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

The number of groups applying for tax exemption was approximately 3,500 last year.

Conservative activists and GOP leaders in Congress are riled up, and lawsuits have been threatened. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has called for a full investigation.

In a letter signed by all 45 Republican senators, the GOP is demanding action from the White House.

"The American people deserve to know what actions will be taken to ensure those who made these policy decisions at the IRS are being held fully accountable and more importantly what is being done to ensure that this kind of raw partisanship is fully eliminated from these critically important non-partisan government functions," wrote the Senators. "It is imperative that the administration be fully forthcoming to ensure that we begin to restore the confidence of our fellow citizens after this blatant violation of their trust. We look forward to working on this critical issue with the administration’s full cooperation.”

During the same timeframe, reports show only three liberal leaning non-profit groups were targeted by the IRS. Unlike the tea party groups scrutinized, however, one of those organizations—Emerge America—had its tax-exempt status pulled as a result.

Yarmuth says those responsible need to be disciplined or fired because it engaged in political profiling, adding President Obama needs to take a more active role.

"I do believe the president needs to be more forceful and I hope that as all of these facts are verified that he will take that opportunity", he says. "The president must have as a top priority after keeping the country safe to restore confidence in government."

The Inspector General for Tax Administration in the treasury is expected to release a report on the matter later this week.

Yarmuth also voiced disappointment regarding revelations that the Justice Department monitored calls by Associated Press reporters. Supporters have roundly criticized the president for waging a war against leaks, as the administration struggles to handle its other controversies.

Amid those criticisms, the White House has reached out to Senate Democrats in a scramble to revive a media shield law. The measure would allow journalists and their organizations to challenge federal subpoenas of phone records and offer protections for confidential sources.

It passed the House when it was controlled by the Democrats in 2009, and Yarmuth was an original co-sponsor. But the measure died in the Senate after the backslash over the online news site WikiLeaks publishing confidential government documents.

Yarmuth says there is a tough balance between national security and news coverage, but as a former newspaper publisher he finds the administration’s actions troubling. 

"I don’t think there’s any question that in this particular case the Justice Department went way overboard. They violated their own procedures, they may have violated the law and there was absolutely not justification for the broad sweep of their activity aimed at the Associated Press," he says. "I think President Obama has not given a lot of thought to the relationship between government and the media over his lifetime. And I think he's being influenced by his national security team unduly in this event."

Asked if Attorney General Eric Holder should resign as some Republican leaders have called for, Yarmuth says he isn’t sure but there is a "glaring lack of leadership" at the top of the department.

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