The IRS scandal is anything but

It’s been the subject of six separate federal investigations. Heads have rolled. Republicans in Congress and pundits on Fox News have declared that it “exceeds the scandals of Watergate or any other prior government abuse.”

In reality, the Internal Revenue Service’s mishandling of tea-party-group applications for tax-exempt status as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations bears more resemblance to a bad episode of The Office than it does to any major presidential scandal.

In essence, low-level IRS employees in the Ohio-based branch came up with an ill-advised shortcut for wading through the thousands of 501(c)(4) applications they needed to check for impermissible political activity and searched the files for terms that might indicate a political orientation, such as “tea party.” As a result, tea-party applications received extra scrutiny.

The IRS admits it was inappropriate. In fact, records show the employees acted in direct defiance of their boss, who recognized this as a bad idea and nixed the practice. There is no evidence that anyone outside the IRS—let alone President Barack Obama—knew about what was going on. But that isn’t going to stop Republicans from talking impeachment.

Lost amid the gale-force, anti-Obama bloviating is the real issue: 501(c)(4) groups, which are not required to disclose donors, have become a means for well-heeled donors to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on political campaigns without public knowledge. Congress should drop the political posturing and act immediately to require social-welfare groups to disclose their funding.