Kimberley Strassel makes in important point today at The Wall Street Journal, taking apart the defense that the IRS was warranted in targeting conservative groups seeking 501(c)(4) status because of the Citizens United decision.  Strassel documents how people close to and involved in the Obama campaign sought to pressure the government to target conservatives years before the Citizens United decision.

Conservatives Became Targets in 2008:

The White House insists President Obama is “outraged” by the “inappropriate” targeting and harassment of conservative groups. If true, it’s a remarkable turnaround for a man who helped pioneer those tactics.

On Aug. 21, 2008, the conservative American Issues Project ran an ad highlighting ties between candidate Obama and Bill Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground. The Obama campaign and supporters were furious, and they pressured TV stations to pull the ad—a common-enough tactic in such ad spats.

What came next was not common. Bob Bauer, general counsel for the campaign (and later general counsel for the White House), on the same day wrote to the criminal division of the Justice Department, demanding an investigation into AIP, “its officers and directors,” and its “anonymous donors.” Mr. Bauer claimed that the nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), was committing a “knowing and willful violation” of election law, and wanted “action to enforce against criminal violations.”

AIP gave Justice a full explanation as to why it was not in violation. It said that it operated exactly as liberal groups like Naral Pro-Choice did. It noted that it had disclosed its donor, Texas businessman Harold Simmons. Mr. Bauer’s response was a second letter to Justice calling for the prosecution of Mr. Simmons. He sent a third letter on Sept. 8, again smearing the “sham” AIP’s “illegal electoral purpose.”

Also on Sept. 8, Mr. Bauer complained to the Federal Election Commission about AIP and Mr. Simmons. He demanded that AIP turn over certain tax documents to his campaign (his right under IRS law), then sent a letter to AIP further hounding it for confidential information (to which he had no legal right).

The Bauer onslaught was a big part of a new liberal strategy to thwart the rise of conservative groups.

Strassel then goes on to document how the new liberal targeting strategy played out in the years prior to Citizens United.

And this history exposes the left’s hollow claim that the IRS mess rests on Citizens United. The left was targeting conservative groups and donors well before the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on independent political expenditures by corporations.

If the country wants to get to the bottom of the IRS scandal, it must first remember the context for this abuse. That context leads to this White House.

That’s certainly part of the dirty war against conservatives.

But the dirty war also has included secondary boycotts of conservative speakers and groups organized by Media Matters, Color of Change and similar well-funded liberal entities.  Those boycotts were not mere expressions of disagreement, but attempts to deprive conservatives of platforms on and through which to express speech, whether a radio show, a cable news station, or a 501(c)(4) organization.

None of these can be viewed in isolation.  For 5 years we have endured wide-ranging attempts to suppress conservative political speech.  The IRS scandal is just one part of it.

Update:  A reader writes:

Note as well that Bob Bauer’s wife is the, ahem, interesting Anita Dunn.