House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's two-paragraph statement on allegations that the IRS targeted tea party organizations for extra review could have come from any concerned lawmaker Monday.
But a single sentence tying the IRS’ alleged misconduct with a controversial Supreme Court decision signaled that Democratic leaders see an opening to restart the debate over the nation's campaign finance system.
“We must overturn Citizens United, which has exacerbated the challenges posed by some of these so-called ‘social welfare’ organizations," the California Democrat said.
One of many outcomes of the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling is that partisan groups have in huge numbers taken advantage of new opportunities to register as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations to, albeit indirectly, raise money for their political candidates and causes.
The ruling has been wildly divisive, with Democrats calling it an affront to a fair and regulated political system and Republicans hailing it a landmark in facilitating free speech. Though liberal-leaning groups stepped up their game in the 2012 election cycle, the first groups to take advantage of this new playing field after the decision came down were those with conservative slants.
Pelosi’s suggestion that this court ruling could have planted one of the seeds of IRS misconduct — that agency officials felt a need to scrutinize conservative organizations given the overwhelming number of applications being filed in a post-Citizens United landscape — could help shape future Democratic talking points on the IRS allegations as they continue to develop.
It hasn’t caught on completely yet.
On Monday, Democratic Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts both generally spoke about the IRS’ behavior as “unacceptable” and “outrageous.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., who is ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he was on board with the intent of panel chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to hold formal investigations into the matter.
"If press reports are accurate, it is outrageous and unacceptable that the IRS would target organizations based on their political ideology,” Cummings said in a statement. “This defies the First Amendment protections our country was founded on, and I fully support a thorough investigation to uncover exactly what happened and why."