Regarding the IRS "scandal", there's a handy visual in the IG report (pdf) that came out this week, responding to the controversy. (I added the red oval to highlight the relevant portion.):
That's right. Noam Scheiber elaborates on this interesting point:
It turns out that the applications the conservative groups submitted to the IRS — the ones the agency subsequently combed over, provoking nonstop howling — were unnecessary. The IRS doesn't require so-called 501c4 organizations to apply for tax-exempt status. If anyone wants to start a social welfare group, they can just do it, then submit the corresponding tax return (form 990) at the end of the year. To be sure, the IRS certainly allows groups to apply for tax-exempt status if they want to make their status official. But the application is completely voluntary, making it a strange basis for an alleged witch hunt.
So why would so many Tea Party groups subject themselves to a lengthy and needless application process? Mostly it had to do with anxiety — the fear that they could run afoul of the law once they started raising and spending money. "Our business experience was that we had to pay taxes once there was money coming through here," says Tom Zawistowski, the recent president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, which tangled with the IRS over its tax status. "We felt we were under a microscope. … We were on pins and needles at all times." In other words, the groups submitted their applications because they perceived themselves to be persecuted, not because they actually were.
How do you like that? Jamelle Bouie adds,
"This helps explain why the IRS decided to apply scrutiny at all. Applications are unusual, and when you receive a large number of them from a particular set of right-leaning groups, it's bound to raise suspicion. As Scheiber notes, 'The IRS was unexpectedly flooded by dodgy 501(c)4 applications and was at a loss over how to manage them.'"
Finally, more from Scheiber:
So the crime here had nothing to do with "targeting" conservatives. The targeting was effectively done by the conservative groups themselves, when they filed their gratuitous applications. The crime, such as it is, was twofold. First, in the course of legitimately vetting questionable applications, the IRS appears to have been more intrusive than justified, asking for information about donors whose privacy it should have respected. This is unfortunate and intolerable, but not quite a threat to democracy.
Second, the IRS was tone deaf to how its scrutiny would look to the people being scrutinized, given that they all subscribed to the same worldview, and that they were already nursing a healthy persecution complex. Which is to say, the IRS didn't go about its otherwise legitimate vetting in a very politically-correct way.
Remember this in mind as the story keeps unfolding.