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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Anderson: The Problem Is Not Just IRS Lawyers; The Problem Is All Federal Government Lawyers

IRS Logo 2Robert Anderson (Pepperdine), The IRS as Microcosm:

I searched the Federal Election Commission database for contributors with the term "lawyer" or "attorney" in thee occupation field. I then sorted the results by government agency (including the many permutations of agency names in the database). This produced a list of 20 federal agencies with at least 20 employees contributing to either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

The results for the IRS were striking. Of the IRS lawyers who made contributions in the 2012 election, 95% contributed to Obama rather than to Romney. So among IRS lawyers, the ratio of Obama contributors to Romney contributors was not merely 4-to-1 at previously reported, but more like 20-to-1. The ratio of funds to Obama was even more lopsided, with about 32 times as much money going to Obama as to Romney from IRS lawyers.

So has the IRS gone off the rails into hyper-partisanship, leaving behind other more balanced federal agencies? ... The data show, however, that the partisanship of the lawyers in the IRS is not unusual or even particularly extreme among federal agencies. In fact, the lawyers in every single federal government agency--from the Department of Education [100%] to the Department of Defense [68%] -- contributed overwhelmingly to Obama compared to Romney. The table below shows the results for all agencies with at least 20 employees who contributed to either Obama or Romney. ... 

AGENCY

 

NUMBER OF LAWYERS CONTRIBUTING TO

PERCENT OBAMA


OBAMA

ROMNEY

NLRB

44

0

100.00%

UNITED NATIONS

23

0

100.00%

DEPT. OF EDUCATION

47

0

100.00%

DEPT. OF LABOR

66

2

97.06%

FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER

65

2

97.01%

FINRA

26

1

96.30%

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMM.

23

1

95.83%

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

86

4

95.56%

FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION

80

4

95.24%

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

38

2

95.00%

... The IRS is near the top in terms of partisanship, but does not stand out as being markedly different from the other agencies. Some agencies, such as the Department of Education and the NLRB, did not have a single lawyer who contributed to Mitt Romney, even though dozens contributed to Barack Obama. The Department of Justice had the largest number of lawyer contributors of any federal agency, and 84% of those employees contributed to Obama. ...

The political contribution numbers of government lawyers show that the IRS controversy is really a symptom of a larger disease -- the rule by career bureaucrat lawyers. Lawyers as a group are not politically representative of the country as a whole, and neither are government employees, so the combination of the two of them creates a dramatic mismatch with the bulk of America. The result of the mismatch is that government agencies lack the political diversity that is necessary to effectively represent the American people. The idea that the Department of Justice, on which we depend for fair and impartial enforcement of the law, is so overwhelmingly tilted to one side should make everyone uneasy regardless of political viewpoint. Whatever the reason for the disparity,the numbers reveal a severely dysfunctional culture in government agencies, one that does not serve the country well.

The media and Congress have understandably focused on the IRS specifically in sorting out the controversy. The numbers, however, suggest that the problem is not with the IRS in particular, but with the federal government as a whole (and indeed, with state governments as well). The root of the problem is the rule by a class of career government employee lawyers who lack the diversity of opinion that is found in the non-lawyer private sector. The IRS inquiry, rather than focusing narrowly on "who knew what" within the agency, should lead to a top-to-bottom rethinking of who's doing the administration in the modern bureaucratic administrative state.

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Economically speaking, isn't there probably a pretty good argument that whether or not they actually believe in President Obama's policies, those lawyers were just protecting their own interests, since Romney made lots of noise about eliminating government jobs?

That cynical perspective aside, "government lawyers" as a group, and especially those working for the agencies listed here, are going to be inherently politically self-selecting. When one party's principles call for raising tax burdens and a personal responsibility to "pay one's fair share," and the other's call for minimizing tax burdens and applaud clever tax avoidance, the sort of people who actually want to work for the agency in charge of collecting taxes are probably going to fall primarily on one side of the aisle, no?

Anderson explicitly states that he's ignoring the reasons behind the disparity, but it's hard to do so when they preclude any effective solution to the problem. Where exactly is the IRS, or the Department of Labor, or the EPA going to find Republicans who even _want_ to work for them, much less have the requisite qualifications or necessarily low salary requirements?

Posted by: K1 | Jun 11, 2013 1:28:25 PM

What would be far more meaningful would be the addition of a third column that showed the number of lawyers in each agency that give to neither candidate. I wager that most agency attorneys abstain from making political gifts. The problem with reporting that data would be that the story may evaporate. Doing good empirical research is rough because it often produces a result that does not support the author's hypothesis.

Posted by: Bill Turnier | Jun 11, 2013 1:33:07 PM

Bill,

I starting shaking my head as soon as I saw that third column was missing. This study is woefully incomplete.

Posted by: HTA | Jun 11, 2013 2:10:09 PM

Alternative theory; the Obama administration sent out word that anyone NOT donating heavily to the Obama re-election campaign might find themselves "sequestered" out of a job!

Posted by: Michael Rivero | Jun 11, 2013 2:11:44 PM

It's the chicken or the egg theory. Are the lawyers liberals when they go into government work, or do they tend that way to support their own jobs.

My experience? They are liberals when they come in. Why? Because they are willing to take lower salaries than those offered by private practice. They want to save the world.

Posted by: of course | Jun 11, 2013 2:15:49 PM

Of course, maybe people who support the opposition will be more likely to contribute to a 501c4 instead of directly to the candidate...If that is true, this chart tells me that Obama was president in 2012, and the GOP candidate was the challenger.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 11, 2013 2:18:54 PM

these data would be more meaningful if romney were a credible candidate.

Posted by: r. willis | Jun 11, 2013 4:05:08 PM

Speaking from personal experience, the data above appears to reflect the truth. When I practiced law for a Federal agency, at least 9 of 10 attorney colleagues were committed and vocal supporters of the Democratic Party. Government attorneys of the Republican stripe were a very small minority, and often ridiculed by their peers.

It really does not require too many grey cells to understand the mutual attraction between the Federal civil service and attorneys who support a larger government. People who dispute this relationship have their head in the sand.

Posted by: Jake | Jun 11, 2013 5:49:31 PM

What a meaningful application of "science"!

Posted by: person | Jun 11, 2013 6:43:50 PM

Anyone reading this would automatically look for some data on the number of lawyers; Robert Anderson is expert enough that this cannot have been inadvertent, so by his kind of analysis it suggests a massive right-wing conspiracy.

I jest, of course. But: "The political contribution numbers of government lawyers show that the IRS controversy is really a symptom of a larger disease -- the rule by career bureaucrat lawyers . . . a dramatic mismatch with the bulk of America." I mean, really.

Posted by: Ed | Jun 11, 2013 6:45:00 PM

Conservatives at management levels in federal agencies are treated the same as conservative professors in most universities -- they better keep their opinions to themselves and not be politically active if they know what's good for their careers. The Obama Administration's Chicago-styled politics with a history of personal destruction doubles down on the threats. That emboldens liberals in agencies who can use their positions to attack conservative donors and organizations.

Posted by: Woody | Jun 11, 2013 7:25:15 PM

I worked as an attorney for the IRS Chief Counsel Office for a year. I was not aware of any other attorney's contributions or affiliations with any party. My take was that everyone there had a job to do, and they did it.

Posted by: Allen | Jun 11, 2013 9:59:51 PM

Those who hate government in general and the tax man in particular do not apply for government jobs or try to become the tax man. My bet is that this is a universal law which you could get confirmed in any country.

Posted by: GSo | Jun 12, 2013 3:32:38 AM

Apart from a third column on number of lawyers, it would be valuable to know contribution rates for the legal profession and society generally. It's difficult to gain any kind of meaningful information from this study. I guess I am a little disappointed in Anderson's research, particularly when his resume seems so impressive.

Posted by: HTA | Jun 12, 2013 7:11:08 AM

G So: So how do you account for Michele Bachmann? She worked for Chief Counsel in St. Paul, and has a demonstrable hatred, or at least overdeveloped disrespect, for government service.

I worked for the DOJ for over 30 years as a trial lawyer. Many of the lawyers I worked with were happy to be there because they thought they could perform useful service, they liked not having to do distasteful or marginally ethical things for wealthy clients, and they liked wearing the "white hat." Others were there to "punch their tickets"--they wanted the concentrated experience, excellent training, and immediate responsibility inherent in DOJ jobs. The first group was largely composed of left-of-center types, the latter of conservatives. The former category tended to stay longer, while the second usually left for private sector jobs as soon as they had acquired the experience they sought. In my estimation, DOJ, the United States, and the taxpayers benefitted from both types of lawyers.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jun 12, 2013 7:43:29 AM

"What would be far more meaningful would be the addition of a third column that showed the number of lawyers in each agency that give to neither candidate. I wager that most agency attorneys abstain from making political gifts. The problem with reporting that data would be that the story may evaporate. Doing good empirical research is rough because it often produces a result that does not support the author's hypothesis.
Posted by: Bill Turnier | Jun 11, 2013 4:33:07 PM

Bill,
I starting shaking my head as soon as I saw that third column was missing. This study is woefully incomplete.
Posted by: HTA | Jun 11, 2013 5:10:09 PM

I worked as an attorney for the IRS Chief Counsel Office for a year. I was not aware of any other attorney's contributions or affiliations with any party. My take was that everyone there had a job to do, and they did it.
Posted by: Allen | Jun 12, 2013 12:59:51 AM
"

Anyone willing to bet real money that Bill, HTA and Allen aren't Democrats or left of center?

Posted by: Not When the Government is Snooping On Us | Jun 12, 2013 7:49:48 AM

For the IRS attorneys, there are 40 contributors. But there are several hundred lawyers working for the IRS.

So the first thing this says to me is that IRS lawyers don't contribute to political campaigns, which suggests that whatever their political views, they are relatively mildly held.

Now, the lopsided result for those who do does suggest that all these non-contributing lawyers might lean left, but it's probably not leftist, just a sort of mild acceptance of the liberal administrative state. After all, that's where they work.

But my own view is that what has happened to the lawyers is that in the last ten years or so, the Chief Counsel has become a captive "house counsel" for the IRS. Used to be that Chief Counsel viewed itself as responsible for keeping the IRS from doing stupid or illegal things. The 2000 reorganization has gradually altered that posture, so that Chief Counsel now helps the IRS do stupid or illegal things.

Posted by: punditius | Jun 12, 2013 8:13:34 AM

I'm a federal attorney. Although we are careful not to discuss partisan politics on government time or to let it affect our legal determinations, I can promise you that I'm by no means the only conservative in our division. I have contributed to presidential campaigns in the past. But, frankly, with my pay having been frozen for several years and kids in college, I just didn't have discretionary money to go around. And to tell the truth, I don't make it a practice to flaunt my conservative views in today's poisonous environment. I trust the people with whom I work, but you don't need to go up many levels on the org chart to reach some partisan and mean-spirited people.

I do think that the career bureaucrat syndrome can create a problem. Because our area of the law is generally non-partisan, we aren't subject to direct pressures like some are. But you have zealots who have burrowed into some areas. These people will act "passive aggressively" if the Republicans are in control, but then come out with all guns blazing when the environment becomes more receptive to their views. The Civil Rights Division of DOJ is probably the best example.

Posted by: tw | Jun 12, 2013 8:50:24 AM

The information provided by the "missing third column" is far less useful than one would think. Those who would have been included in the did not contribute column are either apolitical or political but restrainded by the appearence of partisanship that these contributions could create. Those in the first two columns are more likely to be partisan and unconcerned. These are the ones that you worry about. Add in the fact that their "gall" may be based on the security of seniority (or other forms of protection), and you worry much more. Right now you can safely say that if you are worried about partisans in governments, your worry is about Democrat partisanship.

Posted by: MG | Jun 12, 2013 9:28:40 AM

We really need to clean out the bureaucracy, root and branch. If the government isn't busy doing very much, we don't need a bunch of leftist bureaucrats. Let them get real jobs and contribute to society instead of sucking at the public tit and spending their time trying to make the public tit bigger and available more widely to their ideological brethren. Enough!

Posted by: CatoRenasci | Jun 12, 2013 11:03:14 AM

The Federal Government used to consume about 5% of GDP. It now consumes about 25% and still complains of hunger.
Cut it back to 20%, and then 15%. Then think about reducing it further.

Posted by: PacRim Jim | Jun 12, 2013 12:10:03 PM

Move the Federal Government out of the Northeast, to, say, Texas.

Posted by: PacRim Jim | Jun 12, 2013 12:14:49 PM

Data mining is fun.

What's OK with me; now what's the partisan distribution for political donations among the 1%. hard to tell seeing as it all anonymous now. You know, the people who have all the money in this world and the power that comes with it. Are Republicans angling official political litmus test for government jobs, academic jobs, etc. The reason for this divide is obvious given the salary disparity for lawyers in the private sector (fighting government for corporations) and the public sector (fighting for the Public)

Republicans work for government only long enough learn the system and make a few contacts, to build the resume they need to land a high paying job. They don't stick around for a career like lawyers who work for government for a fraction of the salary because the believe in what they are doing. Big surprise that those people actually tried to do their jobs.

What this does prove is that in spite of Republican partisan attacks using lies and innuendo to tie the President to the IRS the policy was likely started pretty far down the food chain. (Hey Darrell where's the beef) Using tags like they did to determine which groups to closely scrutinize actually makes sense given the why 501 4 c's are structured. Is it credible to assert that a Tea Party organization would likely be a qualifying non-political organization?

One of the amazing things to emerge is how little the tax exempt status is really worth. Going through all that trouble just so your "social welfare organization" doesn't have to pay taxes on the interest earned while their anonymous contributions are sitting in a bank earning .2%. On the other hand the swells donating money don't get to deduct the gift to a charity like they would if they donated to a 501 3C. That deduction is worth maybe 38% for the swell v/s .2% for the 501-4C. Just to remain anonymous. If I am a stockholder and the CEO is wasting corporate assets by authorizing this type of blatant waste I'd be pissed. But I'll never know because the company that I am a shareholder in doesn't have to disclose to me a shareholder where they are donating my company's money, for now. At least unions tell their members where their money is going.

Posted by: Paul Randall | Jun 12, 2013 1:13:50 PM

FWIW, I'm married to a registered Democrat Federal Lawyer who voted for the McCain and Romney. Likely her first GOP votes evah, but you got to start somewhere.

Posted by: The Drill SGT | Jun 12, 2013 3:02:02 PM

I appreciate everyone taking the time to comment on my analysis and thank you for your interest in what I've written, even if you disagree with it.

K1: I agree with most of your comments, but believe me when I say that in the current employment environment these agencies would have no problems finding Republican lawyers who would be very eager to work there.

Bill, Ed, HTA, and punditius: You are probably right that most attorneys do not make political gifts, and if I had a count of the lawyers in each division, the totals would probably reflect that. It would actually be rather difficult to ascertain, however, because some list their employer as "federal government" or otherwise are not specific about which agency they belong to. The point of the analysis is to show the *mix* of partisan affiliation among those who *are* politically engaged. The point was not to show what proportion of agency lawyers are, in fact, politically engaged.

Paul Randall: I mean no disrespect, but if you believe there is a Republican litmus test for entering government jobs and academic jobs, you may not have been paying attention. As for the political donations of the 1%, I think you might be surprised to learn that the many of the most elite law firms look almost exactly like the IRS in terms of their partisan contributions. Only a tiny number of elite law firms--perhaps 10%--had more lawyers contribute to Romney than to Obama. And yes, data mining is fun, but this isn't it.

Posted by: Robert Anderson | Jun 12, 2013 4:22:11 PM

Working in the tax establishment and becoming aware of the sausage making aspect of federal legislation will turn the most ardent Ayn Randian into a liberal.

Posted by: Del Diebig | Jun 12, 2013 7:33:37 PM

Major parties and their federal candidates are not required to -- and therefore rarely do --report occupation and employer information for all their supporters. They only have to report that data for people making cash contributions of $200 or more. Which is a minuscule subset of the overall donor pool, especially in a presidential campaign. We're talking relatively "high-dollar" contributors here. Meaning that your sample is likely to be skewed a fair bit toward more-than-ordinarily partisan, active, advanced-career-type executive branch attorneys. AKA political appointees. Whom we would logically expect to favor the president who's appointed them -- over the challenger who'd fire them, every last one, if successful -- in a reelection campaign. Unless and until you can account and control for such a bias in your analysis, I'm not sure you've demonstrated anything especially notable.

Posted by: DGT | Jun 12, 2013 8:37:55 PM

Paul Randall,

I think you misunderstand the benefit of a 501(c)(4) corporation. You wrote, "[g]oing through all that trouble just so your 'social welfare organization' doesn't have to pay taxes on the interest earned while their anonymous contributions are sitting in a bank earning .2%." This ignores the primary benefit of 501(c)(4) status: without 501(c)(4) status, all of the gifts to the corporation would be deemed income, and arguably none of the expenses would be deductible because none of them are incurred in the pursuit of profit. The result is to impose a tax on political activity.

If that sounds like a wacky result for a group that is not engaged in profit-seeking activity and is not involved in any kind of tax sheltering, well, you wouldn't be alone in thinking that. But for some inexplicable reason, many people seem to think that is exactly the treatment that people should expect when they form a corporation in order to engage in political activity on a collective basis.

Posted by: Douglas Levene | Jun 12, 2013 11:25:15 PM

I suppose it is natural that the employees of gov would lopsidely favor the party of bigger gov. The real effect of this though is it is much easier for a dem president to abuse their power, especially in a partisan way, than a repub one, since they have many more willing foot soldiers, and less whistleblowers. So if you are worried about gov abuse of power, you are much safer with a repub prez than a dem one.

Posted by: richard40 | Jun 13, 2013 3:50:29 PM

It's not just lawyers either. In 1992 a party was organized by the head of the FG section in which I worked to celebrate Clinton's election. Done on the clock and in the office. Those who did not vote for Clinton nonetheless felt compelled to attend for obvious reasons. Federal government employees are heavily Democratic voters - and have been for a long time.

Posted by: LHF | Jun 14, 2013 5:29:29 AM

Robert Anderson: "Bill, Ed, HTA, and punditius: You are probably right that most attorneys do not make political gifts, and if I had a count of the lawyers in each division, the totals would probably reflect that. It would actually be rather difficult to ascertain, however, because some list their employer as "federal government" or otherwise are not specific about which agency they belong to. The point of the analysis is to show the *mix* of partisan affiliation among those who *are* politically engaged. The point was not to show what proportion of agency lawyers are, in fact, politically engaged."

I appreciate the reply. But this is really a weak defense. You have several hundred data points; the federal government employs something like 35-40,000 attorneys. I have no doubt that it is difficult to assign aggregate employment numbers by agency, but you might then have doubts about the FEC assignments, too. Putting that aside, a more objective approach would be to qualify the significance of your data, or maybe even to question (given the very low proportion of reports) whether this was a sufficiently comprehensive measure of political engagement. Instead, you made assertions about a "larger disease" and a "dramatic mismatch." How would you react to someone else making such assertions based on such a limited basis? Would you suspect that that the findings were being perverted to make a political statement?

Posted by: Ed | Jun 14, 2013 7:11:19 AM