With the revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for more rigorous review of their applications for a certain tax exempt status, some on the left have begun calling foul on Republican lawmakers who they said were mum when the NAACP was similarly scrutinized in 2004. Among those is U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
While on its face this seems a case of pure hypocrisy, the reality is a bit different.
Collins was cited by the NAACP in a press release as one of several GOP lawmakers who had demanded the IRS investigate its grassroots get-out-the-vote activities as it related to their tax exempt status. But what Collins’ office said about the incident is that she simply passed on requests from her concerned constituents to the Bush administration, rather than called for an inquiry herself.
A Collins spokesman says news reports at the time had mischaracterized her role and the NAACP, in complaining about the investigation that concluded in 2006, lumped her in with others. And in fact, the NAACP issued Collins an apology that year.
“Unfortunately, in the NAACP’s news release, it mischaracterized Sen. Susan Collins’ role as having filed a complaint along with several other senators which likely prompted the IRS investigation,” said the NAACP release, reprinted in Congressional Quarterly, a Capitol Hill publication in 2006. “Sen. Collins did not file a complaint with the IRS and the Association erred.”
The Washington Post, which had also listed Collins and other lawmakers like then U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough as requesting the IRS to investigate the NAACP, issued a correction.
“The lawmakers forwarded complaints and requests for investigations from constituents to the IRS,” read the correction.
This time around, Collins is going all in on demanding answers from the Obama administration, however. She issued a letter Tuesday to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew Tuesday demanding answers about the IRS targeting scandal, which has been detailed in an Inspector General’s report and condemned by President Barack Obama in a statement issued following the IG report.
“The fact that the IRS chose to press these organizations for their membership lists suggests an effort to chill the constitutional rights of speech and association by groups that hold conservative views and that were seeking tax-exempt status,” Collins wrote in her letter to Lew. “Furthermore, the abuses that are now making headlines appear to be part of a larger pattern of questionable activity by the administration that seems intended to hinder or chill the expression of views critical of the administration.”
Collins said “irrespective” of whether the targeted groups were Republicans or Democrats it remains unacceptable.
“The American people cannot and will not tolerate the abuse of that power to erode their most fundamental rights,” she said. “It is imperative that the department act decisively to put an immediate end to such abuse, ensure appropriate policies are in place to prevent future such abuses, and give a full accounting to the American people of how such an abuse of power was allowed to occur.”
Collins is gearing up for re-election in 2014 and this is an obvious issue for her to take up as it burnishes her credentials on the right and really holds little downside with middle of the road voters.