NRSC looks to pin IRS political targeting on Senate Democrats

Republicans are looking to pin the blame for the Internal Revenue Service scandal over political targeting of conservative groups on Senate Democrats in key races.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on Wednesday sought to highlight past calls from Democrats for the IRS to investigate the political activities of tax-exempt groups, arguing that set the stage for the recent scandal.

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"Several of the Democratic Senators that are complaining about the IRS this week were pressuring the IRS to act on many of the same groups as recently as a year ago, even threatening legislative action against the agency,” said the NRSC in a statement. “Perhaps that's why so many are today trying to quell the storm by joining in the outrage.”

The IRS last week admitted to improperly targeting conservative groups seeking tax exemption, including those with the words “Tea Party” and patriot” in their names.

But the apology has not satisfied lawmakers, who are holding hearings on the matter and vowing to find those responsible. President Obama called the IRS actions “outrageous” on Monday and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he expected jail time for those found culpable.

The NRSC is targeting Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Reps. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), both of whom are running for the Senate.

All have condemned the IRS's recent actions.

The NRSC, however, says those Democrats were “silent over concerns regarding potential political motives in the IRS audits,” when Republicans were sounding the alarm in years past over political bias at the nation’s tax collector.

The NRSC points to a 2010 New York Times story detailing Republican concerns over political targeting amid calls from Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) for the IRS to closely scrutinize tax-exempt groups for political activity.

Seven Democrats wrote a letter in 2012 urging the IRS to more rigorously enforce regulations pertaining to nonprofit groups engaged in political activity. That letter's co-authors include Schumer, now-Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Shaheen and Franken, both targets of the NRSC attack.

Similar criticism has come from other Republicans this week, including from top GOP strategist Karl Rove.

"Maybe the low-level bureaucrats aren’t so low level and maybe they were influenced by Democrats in the Congress saying take on these groups or else you will face the consequences in front of us," he said on Fox News Wednesday morning.

Democrats fired back by pointing out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has previously called for tougher IRS scrutiny for groups on both the left and right.

"No rational human being including Mitch McConnell thinks that Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers are operating social welfare organizations that deserve tax exempt status," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky. "However, Democratic Senators have been outspoken in their condemnation of what took place at the IRS."

McConnell seemed open to tougher scrutiny of which organizations should get tax-exempt status early in his career, though the law has changed many times since then on political electioneering.

"There are restrictions now on the kinds of activities that, for example, 501(c)(3) and (4) organizations, charitable organizations, can engage in that are being abused — not just people on the right, but most of the so-called charitable organizations who are involved in political activity in this country, who are, in my judgment, involved in arguable violations of their tax-free status and violations of the campaign laws, happen to be groups on the left," McConnell said in 1987. "So that is a problem."