Both Democrats and Republicans have condemned the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups that applied for nonprofit status.
But even if there's bipartisan condemnation, Republicans have begun to use the scandal to criticize Democrats who raised concerns about some groups that may have been abusing their nonprofit status.
Among the members of Congress who has taken criticism from the right is Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken. But the charges against Franken are thin.
A video posted May 23 on conservative websites shows an encounter between Franken and Jason Mattera, a conservative journalist who specializes in self-described ambush interviews of liberals.
As Franken headed toward the subway that will take him back to his office, Mattera approached Franken in the basement of the Capitol. "Quick question for you, sir," Matter said. "Do you think you should be at the witness table for the IRS?
“You know, people are being implicated for having specifically targeted conservative groups... If he wasn't, then just come right out and say it.”Keith Downey, Minnesota Republican Party chairman
Do you think you should be at the witness table because you asked the agency to investigate conservative groups?"
Franken tries to avoid Mattera and bumps into one of his aides in the process. The video has been seen more than 180,000 times.
Although it's a common practice for reporters to approach senators in public, Franken has a policy of mostly only speaking to Minnesota-affiliated media and even then only in pre-arranged interviews.
Some conservatives argue that the video shows that Franken is ducking his involvement with the IRS scandal.
Eventually, Franken eludes Mattera on the Senate subway.
Mattera's question refers to a pair of letters that Franken and six other Democratic senators sent to then-IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman in early 2012 as the presidential election was heating up. The letters asked Schulman to step up IRS oversight of tax-exempt groups known as 501(c)4s that are at the heart of the current IRS scandal.
An investigation by the IRS Inspector General found that staff at the agency's Cincinnati office who reviewed applications for nonprofit status singled out some conservative applicants for extra scrutiny based on the use of terms such as "tea party" or "patriot" in the group's application in violation of IRS rules.
The senators' letters made no mention of tea party or other conservative groups. In Minnesota, politically active liberal groups such as the Alliance for a Better Minnesota and conservative groups such as the Freedom Club are 501(c)4s that don't have to disclose the names of people who give them money.
With Franken up for re-election next year, it is perhaps no coincidence that Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey sent a press release last week asking Franken to explain his role in the IRS matter.
When asked why the Minnesota GOP was accusing Franken of goading the IRS to look at conservative groups when the letter doesn't mention them, Downey said, "Well I don't think it's that letter per se, it's everything that's happened surrounding that letter." "You know, people are being implicated for having specifically targeted conservative groups," Downey said. "If he wasn't, then just come right out and say it." Franken called the GOP's attempt to link him to any targeting of conservative groups "ridiculous." "Our letter was asking the IRS to look into 501(c)4 organizations regardless of their political leanings," Franken said. That's correct. The letters say all 501(c)4 non-profits should be required to disclose their political activity so the IRS can judge whether they deserve that status.
The problem for Downey and other conservatives is the timing of their accusations.
Franken sent those letter to the IRS in early 2012. The IRS Inspector General's report about the agency's conduct says that workers at the IRS office processing nonprofit applications began giving conservative groups extra scrutiny in early 2010 -- a full two years before the letters went out.
"This charge that my letter had anything to do with what the IRS did that was wrong is kind of ridiculous since my letter came out over a year after the IRS started doing this," Franken said.
Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said that that by turning the debate about the IRS affair into a political campaign issue, Republicans are detracting from the real issue of whether politically active nonprofits should reveal more information about their donors.
"We're going to have people lose sight of the really important aspect here which is this transparency that is so critical to a healthy and functioning democracy," she said.
McGehee said the debate the nation should be having is whether anonymous money should be flooding into the political system at all.