08/15/2013 01:15 pm ET Updated Oct 15, 2013

Another Politically Motivated Investigation of Nonprofits?

Just what Washington needs: Another federal agency selectively investigating nonprofits based upon their political beliefs or positions. Not long ago conservatives in Congress were screaming bloody murder about the IRS. Now it's the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that appears to be taking a politically selective look at nonprofits. This time around, however, conservatives are not complaining. Why? Because they are the ones who are pushing GAO to do it.

When it was revealed a few months back that the IRS had been selectively investigating applications for nonprofit status from groups using certain "conservative" names like "tea party or "patriot," conservatives were quick to denounce it as political harassment. Sen. David Vitter demanded a "full audit." Rep. Vicky Hartzler called for a "full investigation." Rep. Steve King said the IRS should be abolished and urged conservative nonprofits to defy the agency. Rep. Diane Black plaintively asked, "Will the Americans who do not purchase government-approved insurance soon find themselves targeted and harassed" by the IRS?

In February of 2013, before they were complaining about the alleged political bias of the IRS, these same conservatives were asking the GAO to report back to them on the federal funds provided to "certain organizations involved in health-related activities." Hundreds, if not thousands, of nonprofits receive federal funding for the health care services they provide, but the letter singled out the following organizations: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Population Council, the Guttmacher Institute, Advocates for Youth, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

Hmmm. What do those "certain organizations" have in common? They all support abortion rights. Of course, the letter to the GAO, which was signed by over 70 members of Congress, did not mention the word abortion. In requesting the GAO's report on these organizations, the letter innocently opined that lawmakers need information about "which organizations are providing optimal health services." That seems reasonable. It hardly sounds like an attempt to pick on "pro-choice" organizations.

But when the GAO agreed this month to report to Congress on the federal funds provided these organizations, the tone suddenly changed. Rep. Diane Black's office issued a celebratory press release, quoting Black as saying that "The federal government providing funding to abortion providers is a serious problem in our nation. I am pleased with the decision from GAO to investigate the use of taxpayer money designated to any abortion provider, particularly Planned Parenthood." Rep. Pete Olson is quoted in Black's press release as saying, "I'm thrilled that GAO has agreed to investigate the amount of taxpayer funding that has been allocated to Planned Parenthood and similar groups that perform or promote abortions." Rep. Chris Smith is quoted as saying that, "I'm pleased that the GAO will be investigating how much taxpayer money the abortion industry is receiving."

Wow. I thought they were just asking the GAO to determine whether the specified organizations were "providing optimal health services." What's going on here?

Actually, what's going on here has been going on for years. Every few years members of Congress who oppose abortion write a letter to GAO asking the government agency to report back to them on how much federal funding Planned Parenthood and other groups are receiving. This year's letter to GAO cited concern about a "steep rise in the cost of health care" that has "inhibited access to quality services."

If these conservatives in Congress were really concerned about health care costs, lack of access to quality services, or even preventing abortions, they would be actively promoting the contraceptive services provided by Title X. Numerous studies have shown that family planning actually saves the taxpayer money, but that has not stopped conservatives in Congress from attempting to wipe out all funding for Title X. Why? Because some of the organizations that provide contraceptives services under Title X either advocate for abortion rights or have affiliates that provide abortion services with non-federal dollars.

Curiously, the letter that was sent to the GAO in February did not ask the GAO to determine whether the "specified organizations" were using federal dollars in violation of federal law or even whether they were making wise use of taxpayer dollars. That's probably because the GAO would have given Congress a favorable report on these organizations and their use of federal funds.

To be fair to these conservatives, I am sure that liberals at some point have requested the GAO to look into the funds provided by organizations or causes that they oppose. Political hypocrisy knows no partisan or ideological bounds.

But the next time you hear that members of Congress are complaining about "political harassment" you might check to see if those same members might be guilty of singling out "certain organizations" for closer government scrutiny.