Berkeley Scholar Doesn’t Admit He Is A Corporate Shill

Climatology denialist Steven F. Hayward had a propaganda piece published in the The Wall Street Journal: Climate Change Has Run Its Course (see archived version). Immediately after it was published, the typical right-wing think tanks, astroturf websites, and corporatist media outlets began pushing the article. A common title in the web results was: Berkeley Scholar Admits “Climate Change Has Run Its Course”. In two days, a Google search showed “about 2,550 results” for the exact wording of that title alone.

It is a highly coordinated and well-funded operation. A single article like that might cost thousands of dollars to promote, which is nothing for plutocrats like the Koch and Mercer families who have so much money they don’t know what to do with it all. Numerous pieces like that are put out and promoted every year, as large numbers of hacks, pundits, trolls, etc are paid to write such pieces or bring the pieces up in their shows and blogs and websites, not to mention public relations and perception management companies that do their magic with bots, fake social media accounts, etc. Hayward himself plays multiple roles within this propaganda machine, not only a writer but also a major figure within multiple key organizations. For example, he is a director of Donors Capital Fund“a group that works with DonorsTrust to give hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to numerous groups questioning mainstream climate science”, from one year alone.

The entire anti-climatology network costs at least millions of dollars a year (as for what could be documented with two specific funding sources, precisely $125 million went to US groups over a particular three year period during the Obama administration; one of the two funding sources was Hayward’s abovementioned Donors Capital Fund; and other research by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle found that “In all, 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010.”). Most of it is dark money and, as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said in a speech, “the story of dark money and the story of climate change denial are the same story: two sides of the same coin” — see Whitehouse’s book on the topic and see the investigative work of Jane Mayer, Naomi Oreskes, and Erik Conway. That doesn’t even count the general operational funding for all the organizations and individuals involved with related and overlapping agendas: staffing, lobbying efforts, political campaigns, legal forms of indirect bribery (e.g., donations to politicians’ favored groups), lucrative jobs for retired politicians, astroturf, corporate-friendly research, etc.

About overlapping agendas, Hayward has promoted many other issues besides climatology denialism. An example is his promoting anti-immigrant ideology and in rather extreme forms. In one piece at Power Line, he cited the popular right-wing novel Camp of Saints, a novel that portrays genocidal racism — and that inspired Steve Bannon along with many others on the alt-right. What Hayward predictably doesn’t note is that the refugee crisis is largely being caused by climate change, specifically droughts that turned one of civilization’s bread baskets into a desert. By the way, Power Line was made famous for the defense of Bush against attacks on his military record. And more interestingly, as Power Line is funded by Koch money, one of the Power Line bloggers is a lawyer whose law firm represents Koch Industries. It’s a tangled web of wealth and power. And as Hayward demonstrates, that tangled web is increasingly encroaching within academia as the Kochs have specifically targeted universities with donations tied to demands — “According to IRS tax filing data compiled by Greenpeace, Charles Koch has given over $68 million to over 300 universities from 2005 to 2013.[2] The Center for Public Integrity calculated that the Kochs spent $19.3 million on 163 colleges and universities in 2013 alone” (SourceWatch).

But such costs of millions of dollars are a fraction of a fraction of big energy profits, especially considering the public is giving big energy corporations billions of dollars a year in subsidies. The money spent is a wise investment, at least for the short-term profits of plutocrats. Meanwhile, these big energy corporations see the writing on the wall, as their own scientists had proven the existence and threat of man-made climate change going back to the 1970s. Even so, they will wring every last dollar out of old energy, until they are forced to change. It’s of no concern to their quarterly earnings what devastating catastrophes might happen in the decades to come. Many individuals within the system know the situation is dire, but the system itself doesn’t allow for this to be translated into action. It’s entirely outside of the dominant ideological worldview and its in-built system of incentives and disincentives, the carrot and stick that keeps everyone in line.

The point of all this isn’t public debate about science. Articles like this rarely escape the targeted audience within the echo chamber (the only reason I knew about it was because my conservative father, a regular WSJ reader, shared it with me). The political left has grown weary of the bullshit and rarely bothers to acknowledge the latest propaganda pieces, as it is an endless and thankless and ultimately impossible task to keep up with it all (but some take notice). As for mainstream liberals, they tend to take it all at face value and typically don’t question the immense corruption behind it all because only wacko conspiracy theorists think that way, which leaves the naive liberal class vulnerable to obfuscation and manipulation. And it goes without saying that the comments section below the WSJ article and elsewhere on the web is filled with right-wingers repeating the talking points they learned from previous propaganda pieces — this staged and coordinated groupthink is a big circle jerk, but one supported by immense wealth and power. Meanwhile, Steven Hayward continues to play the role of respectable public intellectual, and there are thousands more right-wing hacks, corporate shills, etc similar to him that pervade the alternative and mainstream media.

This game of rhetoric is subtle and, as with the political parties, it pulls the entire media system far to the right. Even public bastions of supposedly liberal media give more airtime to right-wing sources than left-wing sources (NPR turns to right-wing think tanks between two and four times as often as to liberal think tanks; as for left-wingers, they are either ignored, dismissed, criticized, or attacked). As I often note, the center of the majority opinion of the American public is far to the left of the entire establishment (‘progressivism’ and ‘socialism’ are more popular than the ‘Tea Party’ and, among multiple demographics, more popular than ‘capitalism’), including on many issues to the left of the so-called ‘liberal’ media and the Democratic Party (going by polling data on policy positions, even the average ‘conservative’ is often to the left of the average Democratic politician — let that sink in for a moment). The word ‘mainstream’, as with the word ‘centrist’, becomes rather meaningless; other than as a designation of the site of institutionalized power where plutocratic values are expressed and plutocratic interests represented, where gatekeepers operate and talking heads push their agendas, where the propaganda model is implemented and the public is indoctrinated.

This is a powerful ideological system. It extends into the government itself through placing plutocrats and corporatists into official positions, from stacking the courts to regulatory capture. What pathetic excuse we have for democratic process is so hobbled as to be helpless against this big money onslaught. As an example, Carly Cassella at Science Alert notes that “Lamar Smith, one of the most notorious climate deniers in Congress, is the current chairman of the” House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The official Twitter account tweeted Hayward’s recent WSJ opinion piece. Besides regularly tweeting other denialist propaganda: “All in all, the committee has shared approximately 36 WSJ articles on Twitter since September 2017. Over half of these articles spout climate denial in some form or other.” Talk about ideological religion (it’s similar to the tactics used by fundies in taking over local school boards to push their Creationist and anti-choice beliefs through educational curriculum and textbooks in order to indoctrinate children; and, of course, there has long been overlap between fundamentalism and anti-science ideology as found within numerous organizations and increasingly within government).

To return to the article itself, Hayward writes that: “Scientists who are genuinely worried about the potential for catastrophic climate change ought to be the most outraged at how the left politicized the issue and how the international policy community narrowed the range of acceptable responses. Treating climate change as a planet-scale problem that could be solved only by an international regulatory scheme transformed the issue into a political creed for committed believers. Causes that live by politics, die by politics.”

As one commenter (Susan Marano) responded, “Perhaps the left wouldn’t have “politicized” the issue, if the right, as apologists for, and funded by, the fossil-fuel industry, hadn’t politicized it in the first place – because it implied an existential threat to their businesses.” Of course, Hayward already knows that.

By definition, climate change is a planet-scale problem that requires a planet-scale response, if we are to avoid even worse catastrophes as weather patterns shift with flooding and desertification in new areas and as the number and intensity of severe weather worsens. The fact of the matter is that scientists who are genuinely worried aren’t corporate shills who use rhetoric to dismiss reality. Is this guy stupid or does he simply play a stupid person on right-wing media? Either way, he is insulting the intelligence of his readers, but then again maybe he knows all too well his target audience of Wall Street Journal readers — they apparently take having their intelligence insulted as a badge of honor in the fight against the intellectual elite. This puts the WSJ in an odd position, as it never before aspired to be an anti-elitist or anti-intellectual rag, but much changed when Rupert Murdoch bought the WSJ.

Who does Hayward think he is fooling with this bullshit? Is it merely preaching to the choir? I doubt many of the regular readers are fooled either, even as they enjoy the ideological signalling that confirms their identity politics. Such right-wing pieces are shameless propaganda. And it is well documented that the author is a paid propagandist of big biz. But I just don’t get it. What does anyone have to gain by pushing the biosphere and human civilization toward mass catastrophe? Even big biz will be harmed in the end. What kind of person is willing to destroy a planet and ensure the eventual harm and suffering of their own children and grandchildren in order to gain some temporary wealth for themselves? A sociopath, that is the simplest and scariest answer. In the end, we all live and die by politics, specifically in terms of vast environmental problems, even if externalized costs are not evenly spread across all populations (“About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution” which impacts “3.7 billion people”).

Explain to me how scientific experts who support scientific consensus are ‘cultists’ because “I’m rubber and you’re glue, what bounces off of me sticks to you”. Besides being inanely stupid, that is false equivalency between the two sides. Why shouldn’t we label as science denialists those who deny science? And how does that justify declaring that respectable climatologists are cultists for simply stating scientific facts? Calling a spade a spade in calling a denialist a denialist isn’t unfair name-calling, since it is a objective description. It reminds me of racists who complain about being called racists and demand they be treated as respectable equals. Why should we play their game?

Conservatives seeing everything in terms of religion is nothing new. To their mind, everything on the political left is a cult, as every other religion is a cult. Their complaint isn’t about religion but that there can only be one true religion to rule them all (religiosity as authoritarian dogmatism by way of Social Darwinism) and all else is cultism. It’s similar to how conservatives deny having an ideology for only people they disagree with have ideologies. The labels of ‘cult’ and ‘ideology’ mean the same thing in the conservative mind. It seems like a whole lot of projection considering how hard conservatives push their political and religious ideologies onto others, including their own preferred versions of political correctness. That is what this comes down to, political correctness in defense of right-wing ideology. The right-wing snowflakes have their feelings hurt by words. And since they can’t win on the facts, they will try to make it a fight over language policing.

All of this is in service of denial. And denial is simply the first stage of the grieving process. They deny global warming and climate change is real, although denial has been weakening such that they’ve shifted their position from “it’s not real” to “it’s not that bad”. The next stage is anger when they attack supporters of climatology for blaming humanity in pointing out that the evidence indicates it is anthropogenic. As the scientific evidence grows and the denialist position weakens, they have been moving into this second stage for a while.

Now we are entering the third stage, bargaining. They are increasingly admitting that the climatologists were right in that there is climate change and it is anthropogenic (“I guess we’re adding a new step to the old dance? “The planet isn’t getting warmer, the warming is natural and not man-made, it’ll be easier to adapt than address the human causes…..and if you liberals weren’t so annoying we’d be willing to work on it.” “). But as they continue to quibble and obfuscate the actual science in seeking to blame environmentalists and scientists as cultists, now they want to to negotiate about not being called mean names anymore so that they can save face in their sense of shame at having pushed harmful lies for so many decades. The fourth stage will be depression, followed by the fifth and final stage of acceptance.

We are getting closer to being able to have rational and moral public debate about climatology. The problem is that, even as a few ideological hacks and useful idiots and corporatist cucks for big energy have moved past outright denial, most of them are still peddling more slippery forms of denialism and big energy is still funding propaganda. It’s slow progress, considering big energy companies hid their own climatology research for almost a half century. At this rate, we might not get to full acceptance until later in this century or else until the issue becomes moot once it becomes obvious that we are beyond the point of no return.

In conclusion, here is a fun little disccusion at /r/Politics in response to Hayward’s WSJ propaganda piece:

10390: “They characterize climate change as a movement rather than a threat. They are not listening to the Department of Defense.”

GhostBearBestClanForeign: “What does the DOD know? It’s not like they invented satellite imaging or anything…”

the_geotus: “And it’s not like DOD has any interest to protect Americans …”

puroloco: “Can’t keep the military complex going if we are all dead”

* * *

Further Info:

Steven F. Hayward
DeSmogBlog

Hayward has ties to many conservative think tanks. He has been a senior fellow in environmental studies at at the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), and Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is also a director of the Donors Capital Fund (DCF), a group that works with DonorsTrust to give hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to numerous groups questioning mainstream climate science. Hayward is a board member of the Institute for Energy Research (IER). [2][3], [20]

The American Enterprise Institute and Pacific Research Institute are both heavily funded by oil billionaires Koch Industries, and Richard Mellon Scaife.

Steven F. Hayward
Source Watch

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org) in Washington, D.C., and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute (www.pacific-research.org) in San Francisco.

Hayward writes frequently on a wide range of issues, including environmentalism, law, economics, and public policy, and has published dozens of articles in scholarly and popular journals. His work has appeared in National ReviewNew York TimesWall Street Journal, Reason, The Weekly StandardPolicy Review, and Chicago Tribune. He is a Weyerhauser Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, an adjunct fellow of the John Ashbrook Center and a former Bradley Fellow at the Heritage FoundationWeaver Fellow of the Intercollegiate Studies InstituteEarhart Fellow, and Olive Garvey Fellow of the Mont Pelerin Society.” — Pacific Research Institute

The American Enterprise Institute and Pacific Research Institute are both heavily funded by oil billionaires Koch Industries, and Richard Mellon Scaife (Gulf Oil).

Koch Bros Tribune Co? Climate change denial in Koch-friendly media
by Connor Gibson, Greenpeace

Steven Hayward, who is affiliated with numerous groups financed by the Kochs as well serving as treasurer and board member to Donors Capital Fund. DCF and sister group Donors Trust hide money from the Kochs and other corporate interests to groups like the Heartland Institute, the Franklin Center, CFACT, Americans for Prosperity, and many other groups connected to Haywardread more on Steven Hayward and the Donors Trust network. Steven Hayward frequently dismisses global warming in the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and Powerline Blog, run by attorney John Hinderaker, whose firm has represented Koch Industries.

Who are these guys? Yet more polluter-funded front groups hit the climate scene
by Pete Altman, NRDC

Just how far out there does the IER get in touting the energy industry line on climate change denial?  In recent weeks, the energy-financed IER has helped tell the, well, dirty lie that “clean energy is a ‘dirty lie.”

IER also did its part to spread around the lies contained in a widely debunked Spanish “study” that falsely suggests green jobs are somehow a bad thing.

Speaking of being out there on denial issues, one of IER’s directors is Steven Hayward with the American Enterprise InstituteHayward was exposed two years ago for offering to pay scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change $10,000 for written critiques of the IPCC’s newest findings.

Factsheet: Steven F. Hayward
Exxon Secrets

5 July, 2006
Co-author of a July 2006 letter sent by AEI to an unknown number of scientists, looking for someone – at a rate of $10,000 for 10,000 words – whose review “thoughtfully explores the limitations of climate model outputs as they pertain to the development of climate policy.”
Source: DeSmogBlog.com (2006)

Meet The Climate Denial Machine
by Jill Fitzsimmons, Media Matters

In 2007, The Guardian reported that the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each to write articles critical of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on climate change. The Guardian noted that AEI has received substantial funding from ExxonMobil and that former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond — a vocal climate change skeptic — served as AEI’s Vice Chair. AEI criticized the story, saying they merely sought to subject the IPCC report to “serious scrutiny and criticism” but were not doubting the “existence of global warming.”

Nevertheless, AEI scholars have repeatedly downplayed the threat of climate change. Steven Hayward, who writes for National Review, has said that climate concerns are based on “propaganda” and that efforts to reduce emissions are “based on exaggerations and conjecture rather than science.” Former AEI president Christopher DeMuth acknowledged in 2001 that the earth has warmed but claimed “it’s not clear why this happened.” But some other AEI scholars have endorsed a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

15 Most Absurd Comments Right-Wing Media Said About Climate Change in 2015
by Kevin Kalhoefer, Eco Watch

National Review tweeted that a misleading temperature chart published by Powerline’s Steven Hayward was “[t]he only #climatechange chart you need to see.” Hayward wrote that his chart displayed average annual global temperature “with the axis starting not just from zero, but from the lower bound of the actual experienced temperature range of the earth,” and claimed, “[i]f this chart were published on the front page of newspapers the climate change crusaders would be out of business instantly.”

National Review’s tweet was roundly criticized for the chart’s obviously misleading scale (with an appropriately scaled y-axis, the chart shows a demonstrable increase in global temperatures), with Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writing that Hayward’s re-scaled chart was “so phenomenally stupid that I figured it had to be a joke of some kind.” Several Twitter users responded to National Review by jokingly posting examples of similarly misleading charts, including one that the Union of Concerned Scientists described as showing “comfort in the idea that nobody really reads the National Review online.”

ANALYSIS: How The Wall Street Journal Opinion Section Presents Climate Change
Climate Nexus

An analysis of 20 years of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages on climate shows a consistent pattern that overwhelmingly ignores the science, champions doubt and denial of both the science and effectiveness of action, and leaves readers misinformed about the consensus of science and of the risks of the threat. […]

Similarly, when the opinion page publishes op-eds by Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), they failed to disclose his AEI affiliation in three of four op-eds. AEI is funded by the fossil fuel industry (and the tobacco industry) with major donations from the Kochs and ExxonMobil. Also undisclosed is the fact that Hayward is Treasurer for the Donors Capital Fund, one of a pair of groups described by The Guardian as “a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.” According to researcher Robert Brulle, Donors Capital Fund and its sister group Donors Trust are responsible for “about one-quarter of the funding of the climate countermovement.”

Remarkable Editorial Bias on Climate Science at the Wall Street Journal
by Peter Gleick, Forbes

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has long been understood to be not only antagonistic to the facts of climate science, but hostile. But in a remarkable example of their unabashed bias, on Friday they published an opinion piece that not only repeats many of the flawed and misleading arguments about climate science, but purports to be of special significance because it was signed by 16 “scientists.” […]

The National Academy of Sciences is the nation’s pre-eminent independent scientific organizations. Its members are among the most respected in the world in their fields. Yet the Journal wouldn’t publish this letter, from more than 15 times as many top scientists. Instead they chose to publish an error-filled and misleading piece on climate because some so-called experts aligned with their bias signed it. This may be good politics for them, but it is bad science and it is bad for the nation.

Science magazine – perhaps the nation’s most important journal on scientific issues – published the letter from the NAS members after the Journal turned it down.

Do you have an open mind? Read both, side by side. And understand that every national academy of sciences on the planet agrees with the reality and seriousness of human caused climate change.

The letter signed by 255 National Academy of Sciences members, from Science magazine.

The letter signed by 16 “scientists” in the Wall Street Journal.

How The Wall Street Journal’s Climate Coverage Fails Businesses
by Alexander C. Kaufman. Huffington Post

The Wall Street Journal may want to consider some editorial input from its advertisers.

Such a thing would be journalistic sacrilege. But the full-page that ran last week in the country’s biggest newspaper by circulation — a call from nearly 70 big-name companies for a strong deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions — seems more in touch with scientific reason than much of anything found on the editorial and opinion pages.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote in a blog post that appeared in The Huffington Post on Monday that the job of business leaders is to look ahead and around corners, to see what is coming next.

“Taking The Wall Street Journal editorials as fact would cost the U.S. its global leadership in the era of the high-tech, low-carbon world economy,” he wrote. […]

Major corporate players from an array of sectors have pledged to convert their operations to use 100 percent renewable energy within the next two decades.

Therein lies the most significant change here — big business is behind the deal. That’s what made the 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP21, so different from similar global gatherings in Kyoto in 2001 or Copenhagen in 2009. Corporations realized that the extreme and increasingly unpredictable weather and climate changes that come of global warming were bad for business.

“Serious businesses need serious help with analysis because these are complicated issues,” Sachs, who teaches at Columbia University, told HuffPost by phone on Tuesday. “It has really done a disservice to businesses.” […]

The editorial board’s view sets it apart from just about every major intellectual institution with the exception of one: the Grand Old Party — the only major political party in the world that denies climate change outright or that it’s a problem that should be addressed, according to Eric Roston, the sustainability editor at Bloomberg.

What is the IRS ‘scandal’ about?

An Almost-Final Word On The IRS’s Alleged Tea Party Targeting

This all goes back to the scrutiny the IRS gave to politically active “social welfare” organizations between 2010 and 2013. Conservatives allege that mainly Tea Party groups were targeted. The controversy led to a housecleaning at the top of the IRS — also, to a collapse in the agency’s already feeble attempts to enforce its existing rules on political activity by 501(c)(4) social welfare groups.

The numbers and budgets of politically active social welfare groups have soared since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, especially among conservatives. SuperPACs, which are also used by both sides, must disclose their donors, while 501(c)(4) groups have no disclosure requirement.

Facebook, the IRS, and the GOP’s Bullshit Feedback Loop

In reality, the IRS “scandal” was the unhappy byproduct of an agency being tasked with determining the validity of claims to non-profit status, but lacking the proper resources to do it or clear guidance on how. The fact that new Tea Party groups, many with dubious claim to non-profit status, had flooded the IRS with applications compounded the difficulty. The agency thus used watchwords like “tea party” and “progressive” to, in its words, triage the workload.

For the purposes of ginning up voters, that story is much less useful than one in which a liberal agency leader masterminded a sabotage campaign against patriotic conservatives trying to rescue the country from Obama. And so the IRS scandal was born.

Report On IRS Targeting Of Conservatives – No Christmas Pony For Darrell Issa

Now if both sides were doing it equally, it would be possible for the IRS to approach the matter in an even handed manner. As it turns out, unlike the remarkably similar activities of the Kriegsmarine U-boats in the Atlantic and the US Navy submarines in the Pacific, “dark money” is more of a conservative thing . According to Open Secrets in the 2010 election cycle conservative non-disclosure spending was $119.9 million and liberal non-disclosure spending was $10.7 million. In the 2012 election cycle it was $265.5 million conservative versus $33,6 million liberal. The gap starts closing in 2014 but remains wide with $192.8 million conservative and $54 million liberal.

That makes it impossible for IRS action or non-action to not have political effect. Now if we had really wise leaders, they would have gotten together and said that the country needs good tax administration and the Republicans would have agreed to ease up on pushing the envelope so much and the Democrats would not have pressed the IRS to worry so much about a matter that was not contributing to the tax gap. Probably too much to ask for. Instead we’ve got “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

New Records: IRS Targeted Progressive Groups More Extensively Than Tea Party

A series of IRS documents, provided to ThinkProgress under the Freedom of Information Act, appears to contradict the claims by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that only Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status “received systematic scrutiny because of their political beliefs.” The 22 “Be On the Look Out” keywords lists, distributed to staff reviewing applications between August 12, 2010 and April 19, 2013, included more explicit references to progressive groups, ACORN successors, and medical marijuana organizations than to Tea Party entities.

Donna Brazile: No conspiracy here, IRS targeted liberals, too

In fact, a few months after the story of the report broke, new documents came to light showing more of the extent of scrutiny of progressive groups. At the time, Alex Seitz-Wald described the landscape this way.

But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG’s report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans’ request; and that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn’t even know about it until shortly before the public did.

Needless to say, especially disturbing is the idea that Issa conveyed to the IG his wish that the investigation focus on conservative groups to the exclusion of progressive ones. The IG later said that initial report was inaccurate, but he didn’t say what was inaccurate about it or offer any explanation of why his spokesperson would have said Issa told them to produce a one-sided report.

New Documents Show the IRS Targeted ‘Progressive’ and ‘Tea Party’ Groups for Extra Scrutiny

Arguably, ThinkProgress’s report implies, the IRS focused on giving extra scrutiny to groups on the left longer than it did to groups on the right, Issa’s colleagues across the aisle on the Oversight Committee have long noted that Issa has yet to produce evidence supporting his repeated claims that the IRS was acting as part of an anti-GOP political conspiracy. These documents, which ThinkProgress notes were also produced for “investigating congressional committees,” are certainly not that evidence. Here’s a list of some of the groups that show up on the full BOLO watch lists (viewable here):

  • “Progressive” groups, especially those with words like “blue” in the name
  • “Tea Party” groups
  • Not exclusively educational “medical marijuana” groups
  • Groups believed to be “successors to ACORN”
  • “Open source software” organizations
  • “Green energy” organizations
  • “Occupied territory” advocacy organizations

On the “emerging” section on one of the distributed lists, the BOLO lists contains this downright bipartisan warning:

Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, Social economic reform/movement

Anyway, Issa already has a response to that non-specific language. The political watch list language was “changed to broader ‘political advocacy organizations,’” he wrote in a committee report, adding that he believes “the IRS still intended to identify and single out Tea Party applications for scrutiny.” Even though it looks like progressive groups may have ended up on the watch list before the Tea Party started popping up.

Senate Report Confirms That Republicans Lied About The IRS Only Targeting Conservatives

A newly released report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations confirms that both liberal and conservatives groups received the same bad treatment and were targeted by the IRS. In short, Republicans lied about the IRS only targeting conservatives.

The Executive Summary section of the report put the Republican IRS conspiracy down for the count,

The Subcommittee investigation has reached many of the same conclusions as the TIGTA audit of the 501(c)(4) application process. The Subcommittee investigation found that the IRS used inappropriate screening criteria when it flagged for increased scrutiny applications based upon the applicants’ names or political views rather than direct evidence of their involvement with campaign activities. The Subcommittee investigation also found significant program mismanagement, including years-long delays in processing 501(c)(4) applications; inappropriate, intrusive, and burdensome questioning of groups; and poor communication and coordination between IRS officials in Washington and Cincinnati. At the same time, like TIGTA, the Subcommittee investigation found no evidence of IRS political bias in selecting 501(c)(4) applications for heightened review, as distinguished from using poor judgment in crafting the selection criteria. Based on investigative work that went beyond what TIGTA examined, the Subcommittee investigation also determined that the same problems affected IRS review of 501(c)(4) applications filed by liberal groups.

In addition, the Subcommittee investigation found that, by focusing exclusively on how the IRS handled 501(c)(4) applications filed by conservative groups and excluding any comparative data on applications filed by liberal groups, the TIGTA audit produced distorted audit results that continue to be misinterpreted. The TIGTA audit engagement letter stated that the audit’s “overall objective” was to examine the “consistency” of IRS actions in identifying and reviewing 501(c)(4) applications, including whether “conservative groups” experienced “inconsistent treatment.” Instead, the audit focused solely on IRS treatment of conservative groups, and omitted any mention of other groups. For example, while the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for using “Tea Party,” “9/12,” and “Patriot” to identify applications filed by conservative groups, it left out that the IRS also used “Progressive,” “ACORN,” “Emerge,” and “Occupy” to identify applications filed by liberal groups. While the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for subjecting conservative groups to delays, burdensome questions, and mismanagement, it failed to disclose that the IRS subjected liberal groups to the same treatment. The result was that when the TIGTA audit report presented data showing conservative groups were treated inappropriately, it was interpreted to mean conservative groups were handled differently and less favorably than liberal groups, when in fact, both groups experienced the same mistreatment. By excluding any analysis of how liberal groups were handled and failing to provide critical context for its findings, the TIGTA audit inaccurately and unfairly damaged public confidence in the impartiality of the IRS.

So IRS Didn’t ‘Target Conservative Groups,’ After All

It turns out that the IRS really was just doing its job — scrutinizing all kinds of groups applying for special tax status, not “targeting conservatives” as has been widely reported. Of course anti-government scandal-mongers are trying to make this sound bad, saying this means the “targeting” was “broader” than first thought. That’s like saying people are “targeted” to pay their taxes on April 15. Anyway the “scandal’s” purpose was achieved: the IRS is going to give corporate-funded political groups a pass now and let them “self-certify” that they aren’t breaking the rules. […]

But the truth doesn’t matter. The fact that there was no “targeting of conservative groups” doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t get their way. Even though the whole “ACORN scandal” turned out to just be a lie, Congress defunded ACORN anyway. Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod were both fired after right-wing media launched smear and lie campaigns. And this time the administration immediately caved to the right and fired the head of the IRS. This of course amplified the right’s “targeted conservatives” accusations and whipped the media into a full-blown scandal frenzy.

And the clincher: the IRS has issued new rules, offering corporate-funded political groups a “fast track” to getting their special tax status.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy explains, in IRS Offers Fast-Track for Advocacy Groups Awaiting Tax Exemptions. All they have to do is self-certify that they won’t break the rules, and Bob’s your uncle.

Organizations that have applied to the IRS for status as social-welfare groups but have faced inordinate delays because of the political scrutiny that engulfed the tax agency in controversy now have recourse: They can win tax-exempt status within two weeks if they pledge not to devote more than 40 percent of their time and money to partisan activities.

The IRS announced the streamlined process on Monday as part of its 83-page report, shown below, on how the agency is overhauling its process for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status. By setting the 40-percent marker, the organization for the first time was explicit about how much advocacy is acceptable for a group that has 501(c)(4) status.

So they win.

House Republicans pretend IRS ‘scandal’ still exists

Just so we’re clear, these House Republicans still haven’t uncovered any evidence of official wrongdoing, and they didn’t accuse Koskinen of having any role in “targeting” anyone. Rather, the GOP lawmakers are convinced Koskinen hasn’t done enough to help them find evidence to substantiate allegations that fell apart two years ago.

Or put another way, they want to fire the IRS guy who replaced the other IRS guy who was fired over a “scandal” that never really existed in the first place.

There is, of course, no reason to believe Koskinen’s job is in jeopardy, which is probably why House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) raised the prospect of holding the IRS commissioner in contempt of Congress, because, well, why not? It’s been months since House Republicans held an Obama administration official in contempt of Congress, they’re arguably overdue.

Fox News’ phony scandal: The truth about the fictional “plot” to suppress conservatives

Absent campaign-finance law, and with a deadlocked Federal Election Commission incapable of acting, the IRS was the last defense against opaque and unrestricted political money. Yet as Republicans in Congress blocked efforts to address campaign-finance transparency, nonprofits were inundating the IRS with applications for tax-exempt status, many for social-welfare groups. And media outlets were focused on “Tea Party” groups forming around the country.

Against this backdrop, one IRS case manager in the Los Angeles office forwarded an application to the agency’s Cincinnati office for review, expressing concern that the organization applying for nonprofit status was not being established for social-welfare purposes, but instead for political campaign activity. The Cincinnati office, which oversees nonprofit applications, agreed to review the case.

That questionable applicant was a Tea Party group, whose application triggered the reviewer’s concern over its involvement with direct campaign activity relating to specific candidates.

As applications stacked up, the IRS identified areas with potential for abuse, and began to flag applications that followed a similar format, issuing a “BOLO” (Be On the Lookout) alert for new applications with similar features or organizations with similar names.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the IRS continued to wrestle with how it should handle these organizations in general (and Tea Party applications in particular), while the agency faced mounting pressure from House and Senate investigative committees concerning tax-exempt organizations and donor identities. Tea Party applications were particularly problematic, because the term “Tea Party” was identified with groups backing specific candidates or opposing the policies of the Obama administration.

Such activities are not covered by the “primary purpose” rule applicable to social-welfare groups, which restricts tax exemption (and freedom from disclosure requirements) to organizations that “operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.”

In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) wrote to then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, asking him to conduct a survey of major 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations involved in political campaign activity to see whether they were in compliance with the “primary purpose” rule. He also requested that the IRS look at whether the organizations “were acting as conduits for major donors advancing their own private interests regarding legislation or political campaigns.”

In 2012, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) made a formal request for the IRS to produce specific information on the activity of several high-profile organizations, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the liberal group Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA. As dark money spending increased in 2012, Levin pressed harder, criticizing the IRS decision to interpret the word “exclusively” to promote social welfare as “more than 50 percent” of the organization’s activity. He wanted to know how many tax exemptions had been audited to see if organizations engaged in excessive political activity.

After the 2012 elections, the IRS found itself caught between mounting pressure from Congressional Democrats and from groups receiving information requests from the IRS but no letters approving their tax-exempt status. The agency was requesting that applicants provide all donors’ names and addresses (presumably to satisfy the Baucus inquiry), sparking outrage among conservative groups asked for that information.

UNBRIDLED FREEDOM

At the same time, Congressional Republicans began to hear from big donors who were concerned about the loss of anonymity—and the tax deductions that some of the nonprofits provided. And from “grass roots” groups impatient with the IRS.

One of these groups was KSP/True the Vote, a Texas-based voter-integrity organization originally known as the King Street Patriots—one of the nonprofit applicants selected by the IRS for closer scrutiny, based upon its application and media reports in 2010 in which KSP/True the Vote activists were accused of intimidating voters at the polls.

In 2010, acting under the name King Street Patriots, conservative Texas activist Catherine Engelbrecht accused a voter-registration group, Houston Votes, of being “the New Black Panthers office” in Texas. Claiming to have found thousands of fraudulent voter registrations in the Houston area, Engelbrecht appeared on Fox News, accusing Houston Votes of massive voter fraud. The King Street Patriots also produced a video that warned: “Our elections are being manipulated by the RADICAL LEFT.” Backed by an ominous soundtrack, the video also included a doctored image of an African American holding a sign that read: “I only got to vote once.”

Ironically, one documented case of voter fraud surfaced in Texas in 2010 when County Commissioner candidate Bruce Fleming, who had been endorsed by Engelbrecht, was found to have cast votes in Pennsylvania and Texas in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections, boasting that he “had the chance to vote twice against Barack Obama.”

Indeed, KSP/True the Vote’s literature established that they were operating for campaign purposes, as evidenced by a self-published “Legislative Agenda for Texas” in 2011 and their lobbying for stricter voter-ID laws. The state Democratic Party sued, and in 2011 a Texas court ruled that the King Street Patriots was a PAC and not a nonprofit group. The group was ordered to reveal its donors and pay Houston Votes a substantial settlement.

Despite the court ruling and extensive news coverage, when news broke on May 9, 2013, that the IRS may have singled out conservative groups for scrutiny, Engelbrecht was prepared. On May 21, KSP/True the Vote filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS for targeting them. The suit was dismissed in late 2014.