Fox News contributor and National Review columnist John Fund fabricated a link between voter suppression and IRS employees inappropriately singling out tea party and conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status, claiming that such scrutiny by the IRS is the "real" form of voter suppression.
Fund still claims that voter suppression as commonly understood - attempts to prevent certain members of the public from voting - did not take place during the 2012 elections, despite widespread reports of such efforts fueled by restrictive voter ID laws.
On the May 21 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fund stated that "there was a lot of ridiculous charges about voter suppression in the last election even though black turnout was higher than white turnout." Fund again denied the existence of voter suppression in a May 23 editorial in the National Review Online, stating that allegations of voter suppression"proved to be twaddle."
In fact, research shows that there were widespread attempts to suppress the vote in the 2012 elections. Supporters of voter ID laws, the most common voter suppression measures, claimed that they would combat "voter fraud." However, such fraud is virtually non-existent.
Acknowledging that concern for voter fraud is a pretext, some state officials admitted that voting restrictions were enacted to influence the outcome of the election. For example, Florida officials acknowledged that efforts to curb access to early voting were intended to decrease Democratic votes:
Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal.
"In the races I was involved in in 2008, when we started seeing the increase of turnout and the turnout operations that the Democrats were doing in early voting, it certainly sent a chill down our spines. And in 2008, it didn't have the impact that we were afraid of. It got close, but it wasn't the impact that they had this election cycle," Bertsch said, referring to the fact that Democrats picked up seven legislative seats in Florida in 2012 despite the early voting limitations.
Another GOP consultant, who did not want to be named, also confirmed that influential consultants to the Republican Party of Florida were intent on beating back Democratic turnout in early voting after 2008.
In 2008 Democrats, especially African-Americans, turned out in unprecedented numbers for President Barack Obama, many of them casting ballots during 14 early voting days. In Palm Beach County, 61.2 percent of all early voting ballots were cast by Democrats that year, compared with 18.7 percent by Republicans.
Pennsylvania state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai publicly bragged that the state's voter ID law would "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania," revealing the true political motivation behind the measure. The law was blocked by the state courts.
Though Fund rejects the overwhelming evidence that states attempted to suppress votes in 2012, he makes the novel claim that one kind of voter suppression exists: the IRS' scrutiny of conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status. From Lou Dobbs Tonight:
FUND: I think the real voter suppression in the 2012 election was done at the IRS by Lois Lerner and who knows who else. They suppressed the vote, they suppressed tea party, they suppressed get-out-the-vote efforts, they suppressed all kinds of groups that would have been involved, politically, and that may have played a role in the outcome of that very close election.
And in his NRO piece, Fund claims "there may have been suppression of the vote after all," referring to the actions of IRS employees. He explained: (emphasis added)
Indeed, several conservative groups I talked with said they were directly impacted by having their non-profit status delayed by either IRS inaction or burdensome and intrusive questioning. At least two donors told me they didn't contribute to True the Vote, a group formed to combat voter fraud, because after three years of waiting the group still didn't have its status granted at the time of the 2012 election. (While many of the targeted tea-party groups were seeking to become 501(c)(4)s, donations to which are not tax-deductible, True the Vote sought to become a 501(c)(3).) This week, True the Vote sued the IRS in federal court, asking a judge to enjoin the agency from targeting anyone in the future.
Cleta Mitchell, True the Vote's lawyer, says we'll never know just how much political activity was curtailed by the IRS targeting.
It won't be easy to discover whether the "voter suppression" engaged in by the IRS was malicious and political. But we have to make every effort to find out before the American people start losing confidence in the integrity of our elections.
Taken at face value, Fund's statements undermine his criticisms of the IRS' inappropriate scrutiny of tea party groups (a practice that President Obama has condemned and for which he is demanding accountability). By pointing out that these organizations' activities might have been significantly political, Fund acknowledges that a screening process of some kind was necessary.
As Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas explain in the Washington Post's Wonkbook, the IRS does have an obligation to enforce these laws: (emphasis added)
Let's try to keep two things in mind simultaneously: The IRS does need some kind of test that helps them weed out political organizations attempting to register as tax-exempt 501(c)4 social welfare groups. But that test has to be studiously, unquestionably neutral.
[A] lot of the politicized groups attempting to register as 501(c)4s were describing their purpose in tea party terms. A popular conceit, for instance, was that they existed to educate on the Constitution -- even if the particular pedagogical method meant participating in Republican Party primaries and pressuring incumbent politicians.
It is worth remembering an important fact here: The IRS is supposed to reject groups that are primarily political from registering as 501(c)4s. If they're going to do that, then they need some kind of test that helps them flag problematic applicants. And that test will have to be a bit impressionistic. It will mean taking the political rhetoric of the moment and watching for it in applications. It will require digging into the finances and activities of groups on the left and the right that seem to be political even as they're promising their activities are primarily non-political.