There is real evidence that Lois Lerner is a partisan with an ax to grind, and is willing to use her positions of power to advance her personal agenda. In 1996 she used her position as a Federal Elections Commission lawyer to go after Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Al Salvi, a Republican challenging Senator Dick Durbin. Late in the election, Salvi was hit by an FEC complaint filed by the Democratic National Committee, a charge that would dominate the headlines for the remainder of the campaign, which Salvi lost to Durbin. The charges were later dropped in court as frivolous, but not before Lois Lerner put Salvi through a bureaucratic and legal wood chipper.
Lerner’s abuse of power conforms to a predictable pattern. The Investor’s Business Daily reports that not only did Lerner again use a federal agency to intimidate a political opponent, but that her partner in crime was the same in 1996 as a decade later: Senator Dick Durbin. Durbin and Lerner designed a plot to keep opponents hamstrung by false accusations:
Before his 2010 letter urging the IRS to target conservatives, the Senate majority whip's 1996 campaign benefited from the targeting of his opponent by a Federal Election Commission official with a familiar name.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the IRS scandal may have its roots in Illinois politics with the 1996 targeting of Illinois conservative Al Salvi by a familiar name, Lois Lerner, then head of the Enforcement Division of the Federal Elections Commission.
Lerner has been able to subvert not only the IRS, but also the Federal Elections Commission, and - as described below - even FBI agents to serve her political ambition.
That year, Democrat U.S. Rep. Dick Durbin and Republican State Rep. Al Salvi were locked in a battle for the U.S. Senate seat Durbin would eventually win.
As the journal Illinois Review details, Salvi was confronted with an "October surprise," not one, but two, FEC complaints filed against him — one by Illinois Democrats about the way he reported a loan he made to himself, and another by the Democratic Senatorial Committee about a reported business donation.
What worked in an Illinois senatorial campaign also worked in a national presidential campaign.
The late inning complaints stalled Salvi's campaign against Durbin. "We couldn't get our message out because day after day, the media carried story after story about the FEC complaint," Salvi told Illinois Review.
This tactic of keeping political opponents busy was repeated by IRS Exempt Organizations Division chief Lerner on her targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Salvi refused to bargain and instead fought to clear his name in court. Although he lost the election, because the voters didn’t learn of Lerner’s and Durbin’s crimes until a court cleared Salvi after the balloting, Salvi has been acknowledged by the court as not guilty, while Judge Lindbergh determined that Lerner and Durbin had filed frivolous charges. By contrast, years later, when confronted with her crimes, Lerner did not seek to clear her name, but pled the Fifth Amendment. The Investor’s Business Daily explains:
Salvi recognized Lerner when she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before Rep. Darrell Issa's House Oversight Committee as the woman who made him an offer: "Promise me you will never run for office again, and we'll drop this case."
This was an offer he could and did refuse, running again in 1998 for Illinois state treasurer.
"That's the woman," Salvi said. "And I didn't plead the Fifth like she did."
In addition to harnessing the power of the IRS, the FBI, and FEC, Lerner managed also to use ATF agents and the OSHA bureaucracy in her extortion and intimidation efforts.
Nearly four years and $100,000 in legal fees later, federal Judge George Lindbergh dismissed the frivolous FEC case against Salvi for lending his campaign his own money, leaving FEC attorney Lerner, who was present and actively arguing before the judge, dismayed. "We never lose!" Lerner said, in a veiled threat to Salvi afterwards.
In an action reminiscent of the harassment of Tea Party activist Catherine Englebrecht, who was visited by an alphabet soup of federal agencies including the ATF, the IRS and OSHA after she sought tax exempt status for her group, Salvi received other special scrutiny.
The FBI was called in at one point to gather evidence on the case. According to Salvi, two FBI agents unexpectedly visited the Salvis' home, and interrogated his elderly mother about her $2,000 check to her son's campaign and where she got "that kind of money."
The case of Lois Lerner serves to demonstrate that federal power, housed in agencies formed with good intent and staffed by civil servants of good intent, can be a tool of blackmail and extortion if high-level appointees are so inclined.