WASHINGTON -- Seeking maximum political gain from the string of controversies swirling around the White House, Republicans are on the attack against Democratic lawmakers who accepted donations from the union that represents Internal Revenue Service employees.
But here's the rub: About a dozen current and former Republican lawmakers took the same cash.
Among them is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a GOP establishment favorite running to claim a Democratic-held Senate seat next year in West Virginia. Capito took $2,000 from the union last September, Federal Election Commission records show.
On Facebook and search engine StumbleUpon, House Republicans are running paid ads blasting Democrats for feigning "faux outrage" over the IRS scandal, in which the agency apologized for unfairly targeting tea party groups, while furtively holding on to donations from the agency. They're calling on Democrats to give the cash back.
"Scandal widens," the National Republican Congressional Committee's policy director, Jordan Davis, wrote on Facebook.
The argument goes something like this: Not only did the IRS favor Democrats by impeding their opponents through the tax code, they're also funneling money directly to Democratic candidates. And that makes Democrats complicit in the whole mess.
Not quite. The IRS, as a government agency, can't donate to candidates. The National Treasury Employees Union, which made the donations, represents employees from more than 30 federal agencies ranging from divisions of the Agriculture Department to the Social Security Administration. The IRS is just one of those agencies.
The rush to cast Democrats as tainted by an issue that also touches a number of Republicans could give Democrats an opening to argue that the GOP is overplaying its hand as the Obama administration defends itself over the IRS scandal, the terrorist attack in Libya and the government's seizure of The Associated Press' telephone records.
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring defended his group's attack by pointing out that unlike Capito, Democrats like New York Sen. Charles Schumer took the money while also calling for tighter IRS restrictions on tax-exempt groups like the ones the IRS has admitted it targeted.
The NRCC, which promotes House GOP candidates, said it isn't calling on Republican lawmakers to give back the money – just Democrats – but rejected the suggestion that unidirectional criticism was hypocritical. Spokesman Dan Scarpinato noted that the overwhelming majority of the union's donations went to Democrats.
"Clearly this agency is not only scandal-ridden but also highly biased, which is reflective in both the cash they've pumped into Democrat candidates and the fact that they have targeted conservative groups," he said.
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President Barack Obama
"This is pretty straightforward," Obama said at a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/obama-irs-scandal_n_3266577.html" target="_blank">press conference</a>. "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Rubio <a href="http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=bc8ce2a9-4e95-4792-8744-501d0c1b63b3" target="_blank">penned a letter</a> to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew demanding the IRS commissioner's resignation. The letter begins: "Recent revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s selective and deliberate targeting of conservative organizations are outrageous and seriously concerning. This years-long abuse of government power is an assault on the free speech rights of all Americans. This direct assault on our Constitution further justifies the American people’s distrust in government and its ability to properly implement our laws." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
"The admission by the Obama administration that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political opponents echoes some of the most shameful abuses of government power in 20th-century American history. Today, we are left with serious questions: who is ultimately responsible for this travesty? What actions will the Obama administration take to hold them accountable? And have other federal agencies used government powers to attack Americans for partisan reasons? House Republicans have made oversight of federal agencies a top priority on behalf of the American people, and I applaud the work that members such as Charles Boustany, Darrell Issa and Jim Jordan have done to bring this issue to light. I also strongly support Sen. McConnell’s call for a transparent, government-wide review to ensure similar practices are not happening elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy," Boehner said in a <a href="http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/speaker-boehner-statement-irs-targeting-conservative-groups" target="_blank">statement</a>. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.)
Buchanan also <a href="http://buchanan.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4787:buchanan-to-treasury-secretary-the-nations-trust-in-government-was-betrayed&catid=1:latest-news" target="_blank">wrote a letter</a> calling for the IRS commissioner's resignation. His letter reads: "On March 22, 2012, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee which oversees the IRS, we heard then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman clearly state that the IRS did not engage in the practices of which it is now accused saying "there is absolutely no targeting." Yet, less than a year earlier, Commissioner Shulman's own deputy, Lois Lerner, was made aware that such malpractice had indeed occurred. It became evident that groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names were extremely vulnerable to auditing harassment. Even nonprofit organizations that sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution were unfairly singled out for scrutiny. The nation's trust in government was betrayed by this unconscionable behavior. On behalf of my constituents, your immediate response is not only warranted but essential to clearing up a matter that would have our founding fathers rolling in their graves." (AP Photo/Steve Nesius, File)
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)
Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)
"It is unconscionable that the IRS deliberately targeted individuals based on their political beliefs. Absolutely no one should come under extra scrutiny from the IRS because of their political affiliation. It’s simply un-American," Paulsen said in a <a href="http://paulsen.house.gov/press-releases/paulsen-statement-on-fridays-hearing-examining-irs-targeting-conservative-groups/" target="_blank">statement</a>. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas)
“I have long been concerned with reports that the IRS has unfairly targeted some political groups over others – a charge that they have repeatedly denied. In March 2012, I sent IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman a letter demanding an explanation of this unacceptable behavior. Now, more than a year later, the IRS has admitted to what we have long suspected – it was targeting tea party groups. The IRS’s actions are unacceptable, and I commend Chairman Dave Camp and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany for moving forward with a full investigation. We will continue to work to ensure there are protections in place so no American, regardless of political affiliation, has their right to free speech threatened by the IRS," Marchant said in a <a href="http://marchant.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=333635" target="_blank">statement</a>. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
<i>CORRECTION: An earlier version of this slideshow incorrectly identified Udall as a Republican.</i>
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.)
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
“Today’s revelation that the IRS targeted average Americans using taxpayer dollars solely for disagreeing with them politically is completely unacceptable from this Administration. “Partisan politics have consistently characterized this White House, and the Administration must take immediate disciplinary action and ensure American citizens are not subject to this type of Orwellian persecution again," Cornyn said in a <a href="http://www.cornyn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=NewsReleases&ContentRecord_id=ebc9edeb-f748-45cf-a6b3-0143c6cb41c0" target="_blank">statement</a>. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)