If this was April Fool’s Day, I would reflexively assume this was a joke. It reads like a satire of the corrupt, politicized Internal Revenue Service – like a bad dream House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa might have, following an ill-advised slice of late-night pepperoni pizza.
But I see Politico, Fox News, the Washington Times, and other outlets are reporting on it too, and it does indeed originate with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the government ethics watchdog agency empowered by several federal statutes, notably including the Hatch Act, which limits partisan political activity by on-duty federal employees. (The formal name of this Act speaks of “pernicious” political activity, which is a lovely old word we should all use more often.)
It seems like every media outlet that caught wind of today’s Hatch Act announcement from the OSC focused on a different example of the three investigations it described. I think you really have to read them all at once to get the full effect. We’ve got an IRS customer service representative urging taxpayers to re-elect President Obama in 2012, a tax advisory specialist going on a class and gender warfare rampage against the Republicans who would dare to cap her pension, and a taxpayer assistance center in Dallas coated with pro-Obama propaganda.
I’ve been writing about the IRS scandal since Day One, and I still find all of this somewhat difficult to believe; if it all turns out to be some sort of elaborate hoax, I won’t object to eating some crow for circulating it.
From the April 9 OSC document:
Yesterday, OSC filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) seeking disciplinary action against an IRS customer service representative who engaged in activity prohibited by the Hatch Act. OSC’s investigation found evidence that the IRS employee used his authority and influence as a customer service representative for a political purpose and engaged in prohibited political activity while in the IRS workplace. Specifically, OSC’s complaint charges that, when fielding taxpayers’ questions from an IRS customer service help line, the employee urged taxpayers to reelect President Obama in 2012 by repeatedly reciting a chant based on the spelling of his last name. Given the seriousness of the allegations and the employee’s Hatch Act knowledge, OSC is seeking significant disciplinary action.
A tax advisory specialist in Kentucky will serve a 14-day suspension for promoting her partisan political views to a taxpayer she was assisting during the 2012 Presidential election season. OSC received a recorded conversation in which the employee told a taxpayer she was “for” the Democrats because “Republicans already [sic] trying to cap my pension and . . . they’re going to take women back 40 years.” She continued to explain that her mom always said, “‘If you vote for a Republican, the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer.’ And I went, ‘You’re right.’ I found that out.” The employee’s supervisor had advised her about the Hatch Act’s restrictions just weeks before the conversation. The employee told the taxpayer, “I’m not supposed to voice my opinion, so you didn’t hear me saying that.” Following OSC’s investigation, the employee entered into a settlement agreement with OSC in April 2014. In the agreement, she admitted to violating the Hatch Act’s restrictions against engaging in political activity while on duty and in the workplace and using her official authority or influence to affect the result of an election.
OSC received allegations that employees working in the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center in Dallas, Texas, violated the Hatch Act by wearing pro-Obama political stickers, buttons, and clothing to work and displaying pro-Obama screensavers on their IRS computers. It could not be determined whether these materials were displayed prior to the November 2012 election or only afterwards. However, since the information OSC received alleged that these items were commonplace throughout the office, OSC issued cautionary guidance to all IRS employees in the Dallas Taxpayer Assistance Center that they cannot wear or display any items advocating for or against a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate in the workplace.
I would not think any particular knowledge of the Hatch Act would be required to understand that you’re not supposed to chant O-B-A-M-A into the IRS customer service lines, especially during an election campaign. Nevertheless, it seems clear that these individuals were quite aware that what they did was wrong. The “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” theory of the IRS scandal is bolstered – nobody had to write a smoking-gun memo ordering the Tea Party hit, when a few nudges from high-profile Democrat politicians was sufficient to get the ball rolling. That asterisk after Obama’s re-election just keeps getting bigger.
The woman who went off on Republicans for threatening her pension spotlights the criticism that the politicized IRS isn’t just loyal to Barack Obama or the Democrat Party in a blindly partisan sense; they’re part of a Big Government machine looking to protect itself, and the interests of unionized government employees – the Army of Debt – naturally coincide with Democrat political goals. In other words, this all makes a lot of sense, even if the ultimate outcome seems too crazy to believe.
And once again, it doesn’t look like there will be any serious consequences for any of it. A 14-day suspension? A lecture about the impropriety of festooning the office with Obama propaganda?