POLITICS
05/14/2013 01:59 pm ET Updated May 14, 2013

Mitch McConnell Used To Be Suspicious Of 501(c)(4) Groups Targeted By IRS (UPDATE)

WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- and just about every other politician on Capitol Hill -- slammed the Internal Revenue Service this week for targeting tea party groups applying for tax-exempt status.

But what McConnell left out was that he used to be deeply suspicious of groups that organized as tax-exempt "social welfare" nonprofits under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.

"The activities that the IRS has now owned up to, and that were uncovered by their inspector general, are an outrage," McConnell said Monday in a Senate floor speech.

Early in his Senate career, however, the Kentucky Republican seemed to believe that such groups -- on the left and the right -- should be subjected to tougher scrutiny.

"There are restrictions now on the kinds of activities that, for example, 501(c)(3) and (4) organizations, charitable organizations, can engage in that are being abused -- not just people on the right, but most of the so-called charitable organizations who are involved in political activity in this country, who are, in my judgment, involved in arguable violations of their tax-free status and violations of the campaign laws, happen to be groups on the left," McConnell said in a 1987 interview. "So that is a problem."

Watch the much-younger McConnell above.

It would certainly be consistent for McConnell to remain angry at selective enforcement of the laws, but it will be interesting to see if he still thinks social welfare nonprofits are abusing the law generally, and whether he would favor any sort of broader, evenhanded crackdown.

UPDATE: 6:25 p.m. -- Asked Tuesday about his earlier concern that social welfare nonprofits were abusing their tax-exempt status and whether the IRS should crack down in a more evenhanded fashion, McConnell did not answer, instead suggesting that Americans should be able to spend whatever they want to criticize politicians.

"As I've said consistently for over two decades ... you have a right to engage in the political debate in this country," McConnell said. "People are entitled not only to petition the Congress for redress of grievances under the First Amendment, but to say whatever they choose to in criticism or praise about any of us."

He cut off a follow-up question asking whether people should be granted tax-exempt status to make those grievances.

Watch:

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