The fact that some Republican activists have had their taxes audited is not at all scandalous
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, whose skillful way with words usually exceeds her grasp of the facts, waxed indignant the other day over four cases in which conservative activists were targeted for tax audits.
It’s a scandal, Noonan averred.
Nate Silver, one of the best numbers-crunchers extant, rebuts Noonan’s column HERE:
Ms. Noonan is surely correct that many conservative taxpayers were audited. In fact, based on some simple math that I’ll present in a moment, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of Mitt Romney voters were selected for an audit in 2012.
However, it’s also likely that hundreds of thousands of Mr. Obama’s supporters were audited. Although the percentage of taxpayers who are audited is relatively low — about 1 percent — the number of taxpayers in the United States is so large that this still yields well more than a million audits every year, across the political spectrum.
The probability of being audited is highest for high-income taxpayers — about 12 percent of individuals who made more than $1 million were audited in 2012…
I’ve estimated the number of taxpayers in each income group who were audited in 2012, as derived from statistics in the I.R.S.’s 2012 Data Book. It is also possible to estimate how many Mitt Romney and Barack Obama voters would have been audited last year. The calculation assumes that an individual’s chance of being audited was related to their income, but not to their political views.
I estimate the number of voters in each income bracket from the 2012 Current Population Survey. I then estimate the share of the vote in each income bracket that went to Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama based on last year’s national exit poll….
This results in an estimate that about 380,000 of Mr. Romney’s voters were audited last year, as were about 480,000 of Mr. Obama’s voters.
To be clear, this calculation assumes that individuals’ risk of being audited is independent of their political views. In fact, there is no way to know exactly how many supporters of each candidate were chosen for an audit — nor could there be, since individual-level voting records and audit records are private.
The point is, however, that even with no political targeting at all, hundreds of thousands of conservative voters would have been chosen for audits in the I.R.S.’s normal course of business. Among these hundreds of thousands of voters, thousands would undoubtedly have gone beyond merely voting to become political activists.
The fact that Ms. Noonan has identified four conservatives from that group of thousands provides no evidence at all toward her hypothesis. Nor would it tell us very much if dozens or even hundreds of conservative activists disclosed that they had been audited. This is exactly what you would expect in a country where there are 1.5 million audits every year.