Hundreds of Tea Party and conservative scholars, educators and citizen-activists endured interminable waits for their small organizations to be recognized by the IRS as nonprofits. They now have important new insights into the person at the heart of the federal tax agency’s sustained effort to make their lives hell during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns.
Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS division dealing with nonprofits, is famous for pleading the Fifth before a congressional committee, checking with IT staff to make sure her messages were not retrievable under the Freedom of Information Act, and disposing of her office hard drive after it was allegedly damaged in what would be an incredibly fortunate coincidence for her.
|Multiple conservative nonprofit applicants were asked if they prayed at meetings. Why is Lerner so threatened by prayer?|
There are new insights about her in a set of emails released this week by House Republicans that shed light on Lerner's views about the people her agency targeted and harassed. In response to a colleague complaining about conservative attitudes, she wrote: “Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many a-------.” Later in the exchange, she added, “[W]e don't need to worry about alien teRrorists (sic). It's our own crazies that will take us down.”
This exchange between Lerner and her colleague might not be much to write about as a legal matter. She is entitled to her opinions. But context is significant here, given all the trouble she went out of her way to create for so many of the “crazies” seeking nonprofit status.
Her opinions aren’t a surprise. In a prior job as the FEC’s head of enforcement, Lerner targeted and harassed conservatives in the field of campaign finance as well. In an episode recently recounted by the Illinois Review, she told a 1996 Senate candidate – Al Salvi of Illinois – that she'd drop the flimsy FEC charges against him if he'd promise never to run for office again. He refused, and after years of stressful and expensive litigation, a federal judge scoffed at the case and threw it out in its entirety.
Lerner had also directed an extensive and fruitless investigation into the political activities of the Christian Coalition in the 1990s. The Weekly Standard recently reported that her division ordered 100,000 documents and dozens of depositions. The most absurd deposition was that of Lt. Col. Oliver North, who was grilled about whether televangelist Pat Robertson had been praying for him. That might ring a bell, because in the current scandal, multiple conservative nonprofit applicants were asked if they prayed at meetings. Why is Lerner so threatened by prayer?
Both of these Lerner campaigns to suppress conservative opinion expression failed, but it cost the targets dearly in terms of cash and time. Thus, in Lerner, conservatives have all the evidence they need that the federal bureaucracy's political opinions can matter. In the IRS scandal, they may be behind actual wrongdoing. A special prosecutor is surely warranted in this case. He or she should be hard on those who broke the law, but merciless toward those who tried to cover it up.