The 2012 election season was filled with angry cries of “voter suppression,” almost all of them regarding attempts by states to require voter ID and otherwise improve ballot integrity. Bill Clinton warned that “there has never been — in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the other Jim Crow burdens on voting — the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.” Democratic-party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said “photo-ID laws, we think, are very similar to a poll tax.”
All of this proved to be twaddle. An August 2012 Washington Post poll showed nearly two-thirds of African-Americans and Hispanics backing photo ID. The Census Bureau has found that the rate of voter turnout for blacks exceeded that of whites for the first time in the 2012 election.
But it now turns out there may have suppression of the vote after all. “It looks like a lot of tea-party groups were less active or never got off the ground because of the IRS actions,” Wisconsin governor Scott Walker told me. “Sure seems like people were discouraged by it.”
Indeed, several conservative groups I talked with said they were directly impacted by having their non-profit status delayed by either IRS inaction or burdensome and intrusive questioning. At least two donors told me they didn’t contribute to True the Vote, a group formed to combat voter fraud, because after three years of waiting the group still didn’t have its status granted at the time of the 2012 election. (While many of the targeted tea-party groups were seeking to become 501(c)(4)s, donations to which are not tax-deductible, True the Vote sought to become a 501(c)(3).) This week, True the Vote sued the IRS in federal court, asking a judge to enjoin the agency from targeting anyone in the future.
Cleta Mitchell, True the Vote’s lawyer, says we’ll never know just how much political activity was curtailed by the IRS targeting. She has one client who wanted to promote reading of the Constitution, but who didn’t even hear back from the IRS for three years – until last Monday, when the IRS informed this client that some questions would be sent.
“I was about to file with the IRS when other tea-party groups started to get harassed,” Pennsylvania activist Jennifer Stefano told Time magazine. “I remember checking with the IRS to see if they wanted the group [Facebook] page or my personal page, and they said ‘All of it.’”
The IRS claims that all of the delays and information demands were rooted in mere mismanagement and misjudgment, a stance that began to look even shakier yesterday when Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS’s exempt-organization division, took the Fifth Amendment before a House committee.