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Vol. 77/No. 21      June 3, 2013

White House targets political
opponents and reporters
(front page)
Revelations of President Barack Obama’s administration targeting political groups and media have exploded since mid-May, shedding light on broader trends toward increasing White House reliance on executive power and encroachments on political rights.

Media reports have detailed actions by the Internal Revenue Service to target hundreds of Tea Party conservative groups for special probes of their tax status. This comes in the guise of promoting campaign financial disclosure of influence by “big money” and “special interests.” The agency also singled out supporters of Republican candidates for audits and investigation.

At the same time, the Justice Department admits opening far-reaching wiretapping and spy operations against The Associated Press and other reporters. The aim, department officials claim, was to stop leaks to the press from government employees.

On May 19 the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department had seized phone and personal email records from Fox News reporter James Rosen in a probe related to the arrest of a former government contractor charged with leaking an intelligence report to Rosen.

To get a secret warrant to grab the records, the FBI submitted an affidavit threatening that by seeking the leaked information — seemingly the jobs of a reporter — Rosen was an “aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in violating national security.

IRS targets Tea Party groups

Lois Lerner, IRS director of exempt organizations, publicly apologized May 10 for “inappropriate” actions in its probes aimed at conservative groups. The agency was “sorry,” she said, adding that these operations were “absolutely not” influenced by the Obama administration.

Hundreds of groups, initially many local Tea Party organizations, were targeted when they applied for tax-exempt status to carry out “social welfare” activity. Such groups are allowed to engage in political activity, including opposing candidates and attacking their stands on issues, and are not covered by Federal Election Commission requirements to disclose contributors’ names. Some 44,000 groups have this status, from the Barack H. Obama Foundation to the National Rifle Association.

Beginning in 2010, IRS agents started singling out applicants by computer searches for key words such as “Tea Party” or “patriot” — then for groups criticizing “big government,” “how the country is being run,” or Obamacare. Still later, those mentioning “government spending, government debt, taxes” were added.

Applications were held up for months — over a year in some cases — while being “reviewed.” The IRS demanded “donor rolls, membership lists, data on all contributions, names of volunteers, the contents of all speeches made by members, Facebook posts, minutes of all meetings, and copies of all materials handed out at gatherings,” the Wall Street Journal reported May 18.

Backers of the White House and pro-disclosure organizations — called “good government” groups or election “watchdogs” by the liberal media — have been pressing the IRS to probe groups using their “social welfare” status to attack the Obama administration.

Obama himself joined the chorus. “All around the country there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are running millions of dollars of ads against Democratic candidates,” he told a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in 2010. “And they don’t have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are.” Nobody knows if it’s “foreign-controlled,” money, the president said.

In fact, it is widely known that Americans for Prosperity is associated with Charles and David Koch, politically conservative brothers who share a combined wealth of $50 billion.

The IRS also ordered special audits of some opponents of administration policies. After being highlighted on an Obama campaign website in April 2012, Idaho businessman and longtime Republican donor Frank VanderSloot was informed that the IRS was auditing two years of his tax returns. The Department of La-bor audited “guest workers” on his ranch. Then the IRS looked into one of his businesses. None of these audits led to fines or penalties, but VanderSloot ran up $80,000 in legal bills.

Over the last 80 years, successive presidents have used the IRS to harass opponents of their policies. Franklin Roosevelt’s IRS targeted politicians and media that opposed the New Deal. John Kennedy set up an Ideological Organizations Audit Project to target groups like the American Enterprise In-stitute. And Richard Nixon used the IRS to go after his “enemies list.”

But the Obama administration has accelerated the trend toward use of executive power. His presidency is based on the conviction, shared by other meritocrats inside and outside government, that their “smarts” (validated by comfortable upper middle-class and professional incomes) make them uniquely qualified to decide what should be done to and for ordinary folk.

Liberal backers of the Obama administration, and their hangers-on among middle-class radicals, have risen to defend the IRS inquisition, arguing that disclosure trumps the rights of these groups.

The Peoples World, the online newspaper that speaks for the Communist Party USA, said that if Tea Party groups or others “had disclosed the names of their donors and conducted all their other business out in the open, where election business is supposed to be conducted, and if overtly political groups stopped masquerading as ‘social welfare’ groups, the IRS would have no business looking at them at all.”

AP phone records seized

The U.S. Department of Justice informed Associated Press May 10 that federal investigators had seized AP phone logs from April and May 2012. The records were from cell, office and home phones of reporters; an editor; and AP general office numbers in Washington, D.C., New York, Hartford, Conn.; and others — some 100 AP employees in all.

The Justice Department said the records were seized as part of a criminal probe into leaks by officials about a CIA operation that reportedly foiled an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb on a U.S.-bound airliner. AP published a story about the plot in May 2012 after holding up publication for several days at White House request.

AP President Gary Pruitt said May 19 on TV program “Face the Nation” that if the administration can carry out such sweeping wiretaps, it will intimidate people from talking to the press. “The people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know,” he said.

In addition to the AP and Fox News snooping, the Justice Department says it is also carrying out an investigation into leaks to the New York Times.
Related articles:
White House targets political opponents and reporters
Victory in disclosure fight strengthens workers’ ability to organize independent working-class political action
‘Injury to one is injury to all’ guides Socialist Workers Party in battles against government attacks
Defend campaign disclosure victory!
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