The scandal enveloping the Internal Revenue Service is not the first time that the Obama administration has come under fire for unfairly targeting conservative groups or constituencies: At least two other executive agencies during President Barack Obama’s tenure have been criticized for unfairly attacking conservatives or conservative groups.
Officials at the IRS put heightened scrutiny on groups with conservative-sounding names applying for tax-exempt status. A Tuesday story in USA Today revealed that “In the 27 months that the Internal Revenue Service put a hold on all Tea Party applications for non-profit status, it approved applications from similar liberal groups.”
Conservative watchdog and public policy experts see the IRS scandal as continuing a trend in the Obama administration.
“The Obama tendency has been to attack its enemies, and the bureaucracy has been set on its enemies, and the IRS is just one more example of it,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.
“This administration got its ethics out of Chicago,” said Gover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
The Department of Homeland Security in 2009 was panned for a report on right-wing extremism. The report, titled “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” acknowledged that there were no known threats from right-wing extremists but nevertheless warned about a growing specter of right-wing extremism.
The report defined suspicious right-wing groups as “those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”
The report argued that conservatives were using the election of the first black president and the economic recession to recruit members, including veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It drew parallels between the conditions at the time of the report and the 1990s, when radical right-wing groups multiplied and grew, according to the report.
Conservatives and libertarians slammed the report, arguing it was unfairly broad and unsubstantiated.
Napolitano ultimately had to issue multiple apologies, including one to the American Legion, the largest veterans group in the country.
The Department of Defense was criticized earlier this year for a report on religious extremists that included what critics saw as an overly broad list of worrisome groups. The list included “Evangelical Christianity” and “Catholicism” in a list that also included al Qaeda and the Ku Klux Klan.
Christian groups pushed back against the label.
“It is dishonorable for any U.S. military entity to allow this type of wrongheaded characterization,” the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said in a statement.
“The Archdiocese is astounded that Catholics were listed alongside groups that are, by their very mission and nature, violent and extremist,” the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services said in a similar statement.
ADF also criticized the Department of Defense for relying on the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center, which itself has inspired left-wing terrorism, to create its report.
Religious groups felt they were being unfairly targeted.
Evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, according to the New York Times. The Catholic Church strongly opposes several of the president’s social policy positions, including same-sex marriage and abortion.
Most recently, an investigation prompted by House Republicans uncovered that the IRS was targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny before the 2012 campaign, including asking for information from the groups that it did not need.
While the IRS initially claimed that only employees based in Cincinnati were involved in targeting conservative groups, it later emerged that IRS officials in Washington were also involved.
Both Republicans and Democrats have denounced the IRS’ actions. Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) called the revelations “chilling,” while Obama himself called them “intolerable and inexcusable.”
Both Fitton and Norquist noted that similar things happened during the Clinton administration.
Fitton said his group Judicial Watch was audited during the Clinton administration after the White House forwarded a letter it received to the IRS. When Fitton inquired into why he was being audited, an IRS official responded, “What did you expect?” Fitton said.
The same pattern has continued in Obama’s White House, Fitton said.
“The president and his men have specifically attacked American citizens for their participation in the democratic process,” Fitton said.
Norquist placed the blame for the IRS scandal on the White House.
“Certainly they sent a hundred signals that they don’t mind this,” Norquist said about the White House.
Norquist noted that the IRS has in the past resisted attempts to use it for political attacks. When Chuck Colson came to the IRS with Richard Nixon’s enemies list, the IRS refused to target the individuals on the list with audits.
“They just view this as an extension of playing politics,” Norquist said about the White House.
“It is exactly what you expect in Chicago,” he said.