As witnesses have testified to the House Ways and Means Committee, the chief counsel for the Internal Revenue Service may have played a role in the IRS’s practice of reserving special scrutiny for Tea Party and other conservative political groups. William Wilkins, chief counsel and one of two political appointees at the IRS, was “closely involved in some of the applications” for tax-exempt status, according to a press release from the committee.
But who is William Wilkins? According to the 2009 announcement of his appointment to the IRS, Wilkins was a registered lobbyist with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr since 1988. At WilmerHale (the firm's new name after 2003), he was a part of the Tax Practice Group, where he practiced a wide range of tax law services, including “counseling nonprofit organizations, business entities, and investment funds on tax compliance, business transactions, and government investigations.” Before his lobbying career, Wilkins was staff counsel for the Democratic side of the Senate Finance committee, from 1981 to 1988.
As Carol Platt Liebau points out, there are some questions about how the White House was left in the dark about the IRS's probing of conservative groups when its own appointeee appears to have known about the investigations:
(1) Is it credible that William J. Wilkins, a well-trained lawyer with a history of counseling 501(c)(3)'s, would have learned of the political targeting of groups and not informed The White House?
(2) How is it that the systematic harassment of conservative groups continued at the IRS even after President Obama's man at the IRS knew of the previous targeting as of August 4, 2011?
Unsurprisingly, Wilkins has donated heavily to Democratic candidates and committees since he became a tax lobbyist in 1988. He’s donated in particular to both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in charge of tax law. Those candidates include Finance committee chairmen Lloyd Bentsen, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Max Baucus (all Democrats) and Bob Packwood and Chuck Grassley (both Republicans). Other congressional Democrats Wilkins donated to include David Pryor, Bill Bradley, Tom Foley, J.J. Pickle, Paul Simon, John Kerry, John Breaux, Tom Daschle, Dianne Feinstein, Robert Abrams, George Mitchell, Cody Graves, Vic Fazio, Paul Sarbanes, Barbara Kennelly, Bruce Vento, Chris Dodd, Patrick Leahy, Charlie Rangel, Kent Conrad, Tim Johnson, Jack Reed, Blanche Lincoln, Jeff Bingaman, Sherrod Brown, Jay Rockefeller, Brad Miller, Ken Salazar, and Bob Graham. He has also donated to the Democratic Congressional Dinner Commmittee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and other Democratic campaign groups.
And in an interesting twist, Wilkins appears to have led the defense team of former Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright and the United Church of Christ in Chicago back in 2008. The UCC was under investigation by the IRS at the time for being violation of its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. The Wall Street Journal reports that Wilkins apparently did the legal work for Wright and UCC pro bono.