By Doug Porter
It’s turning out to be a bad week for San Diego’s Congressman Darrell Issa and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
Both have seen would-be/shoulda been triumphant scenarios blow up in their faces. Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the local press, both these Republican politicians are being revealed and reviled nationally and internationally for their prosecutorial over-reach.
In Congressman Issa’s case, it turns out now that the whole ‘IRS crisis’ was manufactured, thanks to some manipulative questions asked by the House Oversight Committee Chairman of the IRS Inspector General. Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel will testify today before Congress the data released only concerned itself with conservative groups because Issa only asked about those groups.
The City Attorney’s office’s decision to pursue prosecution at the behest of the Bank of America for acts of political graffiti committed with washable chalk and their quest for a 13 year prison sentence in that case have made Jan Goldsmith an international laughing stock, despite his claims that he knew nothing about the case.
Issa’s Soufflé Falls
Disclosures earlier this week in The Hill newspaper made a strong argument for what I’ve been saying all along: that Darrell Issa has done his best to cook up a scandal at the the IRS when there is, in fact, none.
It’s a historical fact that organizations applying for tax exempt status undergo scrutiny for political activities. Having spent the better part of a decade working in the Washington DC non-profit scene I can attest to the foot-dragging, nit-picking and overly intrusive nature of such investigations.
The IRS was (and apparently is still) an equal opportunity pain-in-the-ass when it comes to granting tax-exempt status. Every group, regardless of political persuasion, felt it was personal, as the delays always impacted their financial viability.
And there was a reason for it. Partisan political activity is supposed to be outside the realm of non-profit groups. Unfortunately for everybody involved, the law was about as clear as mud when it came to defining just what ‘political’ and ‘partisan’ were.
So on Monday, The Hill spilled the beans about how Darrell Issa went about creating the ‘IRS is persecuting the Tea Party’ scenario.
The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.
A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) “to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations…”
…But top congressional Democrats have wielded new information from the IRS this week that liberal groups were also flagged for extra attention on the sorts of “be on the lookout” lists (BOLOs) that also tripped up conservative groups.
The spokesman for the Treasury inspector general noted their audit acknowledged there were other watch lists. But the spokesman added: “We did not review the use, disposition, purpose or content of the other BOLOs. That was outside the scope of our audit.”
So what kinds of groups were excluded from the House Oversight Committee investigation?
If the words “Progressive”, “Israel” “Marijuana Legalization”, and yes, even “Tea Party” were used in the application process, applicants were given extra-scrutiny.
From Jed Lewison:
On Monday, we learned that the IRS didn’t single out tea party groups after all. Instead, they were looking for political groups, including not just tea party groups, but progressive groups as well. They may have used a flawed method for flagging the groups, but the IRS’s intent was clear: to identify political groups that were not legally entitled to receive the tax-exempt benefit they sought to receive…
…the most likely explanation here is that Issa was simply trying to cook up a scandal, even though it did nothing to address the genuine problems with the way campaign finance and tax laws are written. He probably figured that in the best case scenario, he’d be able to get away with his fraud. And in the worst case scenario, he’d get a slap on the wrist from a few reporters, but endless approval from his political supporters. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from Mr. Grand Theft Auto.
Now that Issa’s schemes are being exposed, Lewison notes that the Congressman has been spamming the Twitterverse with his other cooked up conspiracy…Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi…
Goldsmith’s First Amendment Foibles
Our esteemed City Attorney, fresh from flaunting his office’s alleged persecution at the hands of Mayor Bob Filner, has seen a simple misdemeanor case mushroom into an international example of prosecutorial over-reach.
The story, originally reported on by Dorian Hargrove at the SD Reader, is simple:
- Protestor inspired by Occupy undertakes a crusade aimed at Bank of America, using washable chalk to write slogans outside three branch offices over a several month period.
- Protestor gets busted for vandalism.
Apparently at the urging of the urging of a Bank of America “security official”, the City Attorney decides to forgo the sane route of getting a simple conviction, fining the protestor and some combination of restitution/community service. Goldsmith’s office throws the prosecutorial book at the case, with charges that could add up to 13 years of jail time. That’s more time than Duke Cunningham did.
Then, to make matters worse, they successfully petitioned the judge hearing the case to exclude any and all mentions of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
International press coverage ensued. Even the Russians thought it was silly. The right leaning Drudge Report covered it. The used-to-be-left leaning Huffington Post covered it. The UT-San Diego even wrote a story, carefully sanitized of any mentions of the original reporting done by the Reader.
Sensing that things were getting out of hand yesterday, the City Attorney’s office issued a strongly worded statement saying that Goldsmith wasn’t personally in on the prosecution, promising that this was simply a criminal and not a political case. And this:
“This is a graffiti case where the defendant is alleged to have engaged in the conduct on 13 different occasions. The trial judge has already held that, under California law, it is still graffiti even if the material can be removed with water. Most graffiti can be removed. Also, the judge and a different pre-trial judge held that the First Amendment is not a defense to vandalism/graffiti,” read the statement.
Given the egregious behavior of BofA and other financial institutions (who’ve essentially escaped prosecution!) this claim about the First Amendment not applying as a potential defense is simply ridiculous on the face of it. Maybe BofA and Goldsmith can jail him first and then have a trial, like we were told as children they used to do in Russia.
Are Some Vandalism Cases Ignored?
Needless to say, this story has generated lots of commentary. Very little of it has been kind to the City Attorney. One person over at theReader story alleged favoritism for Bank of America and sent along a picture taken near McKinley Elementary to make their case:
The irony for me is last year I went to the San Diego police and attorney’s office to get this guy who chalked over a hundred swastikas and other Nazi graffiti on an elementary school, and they told me that this Nazi was protected by the First Amendment and they couldn’t prosecute him. Nazis in elementary schools is ok, but criticizing a bank is not?
I emailed the City Attorney’s office asking about this allegation and received the following response:
The Criminal Division of the City Attorney’s Office reviews cases submitted by law enforcement agencies. After a search of the City Attorney case management system for any cases submitted to our office for review involving swastikas since 2010, 7 were submitted to our office. All Defendants in those cases were charged with vandalism, in addition to other appropriate charges, and all cases resulted in a criminal conviction. None involved McKinley Elementary School.
And then there’s the guy over at the UT-San Diego’s comments who suggests they ought to dig a little deeper:
A good reporter would remind the readers that at one time Goldsmith promoted civil disobedience and free speech, on behalf of ferret owners.
Finally, here’s defense attorney Jeremy Warren, also commenting at UT-San Diego:
The SDPD arrested a young woman for drawing with chalk in front of city hall during the occupy protests. The City Attorney’s office prosecuted her; I represented her. She refused all deals and the City Attorney’s office finally came to its senses and dismissed the case on the morning of trial. Oh, what did she draw? Fish, patterns, and the statement “free speech is free.”
Unless it involves Bank of America, apparently.
The War Against Meatless Monday
The Heard on the Hill column at DC’s Roll Call reports that an attempt to offer a one day a week vegetarian station at the Longworth Office Building cafeteria has been cancelled after lobbyists complained to Congress about a “Meatless Monday” program.
Steve Kopperud, executive vice president of Policy Directions Inc., helped stamp out the produce-friendly promotion — congressional dining operator Restaurant Associates’ plan to provide vegetarian fare at a single food counter in the Longworth cafeteria once per week — after it was sniffed out by a member of the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition. Kopperud fired off a letter to the House Administration Committee (making sure to cc Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and a handful of relevant GOP committee chairmen) denouncing the alterna-dining outreach as pure propaganda.
“The complaint was that Meatless Mondays — a purely political concoction of a vocal anti-meat lobby — was chosen by RA as a promotion for its vegetarian/vegan options,” Kopperud told HOH. He suggested that his group has no beef with whatever others might choose to consume (“We make no judgment on anyone’s dietary choices”), stressing that he’d only bared his teeth because of the unsavory marketing campaign.
Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association member Adam Saravana said his group wasn’t terribly surprised an agri-business-friendly lobbyist was able to kill the pilot program, but it was floored by how swiftly Congress caved.
Where is the outrage? Where’s Glen Beck when you need him? (Forget that last question)
On This Day: 1885 – Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter applied for a patent on their invention known as the gramophone. 1955 – The state ofIllinois enacted the first automobile seat belt legislation. 1969 – Patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, clashed with police. This incident is considered to be the birth of the gay rights movement.
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