August 15, 2013
E-mail correspondence unearthed by the House Ways and Means Committee reveals that Lois Lerner, the figure at the center of the scandal, may have committed a felony by divulging information about a conservative group to the Federal Election Commission, in an incident that dates back at least to 2008, before President Obama took office. Though some conservatives have eagerly sought evidence that Obama’s White House instigated the IRS’s targeting of tea-party groups, the latest evidence suggests that an anti-conservative bias may instead be an endemic feature of the federal bureaucracy. And now, an FEC official is raising the specter of systemic bias at that agency, too, calling the techniques its lawyers employ a “much more sophisticated way” of discriminating against conservative groups than those used by the IRS.
Further, once an organization is granted tax exemption, federal law mandates that its application as well as the IRS’s approval letter be made publicly available; since its application was not publicly available, lawyers could have deduced that its file was pending. For this reason and others, Bryan Camp of Texas Tech University’s law school does not believe Lerner broke the law. “Assuming the disclosure occurred, I don’t see that as a 6103 violation,” he says, citing a provision that allows the IRS to verify whether an organization is “currently held to be exempt.” But Camp adds a caveat. “The law of disclosure is complex and treacherous,” he says. “There are very few, even in the office of chief counsel, who understand all the ins and outs.”