While congressional lawmakers are questioning why former Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman paid dozens of visits to the White House during his tenure, Shulman’s top political aide seems to have spent even more time working side-by-side with members of the Obama administration.
White House visitor logs show Shulman’s chief of staff, Jonathan M. Davis, appears to have visited the White House and adjacent Eisenhower office building as many as 310 times between the fall of 2009 and February 2013.
Davis’ background is in technology and had no expertise on tax issues , according to some IRS sources who said Davis served mostly as a political aide who served with Shulman to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, where Shulman was vice chairman, and then followed him to the IRS.
Jason Stverak, head of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, said the visits raise more questions about the connection between the White House and the IRS at a time when the tax agency was targeting conservative groups. IRS officials said the targeting was initiated internally, but lawmakers have suggested that someone higher up in the administration had actually ordered the targeting.
“Why does this person have to go there 300 times when they probably don’t have the staff expertise to be discussing tax issues?” Stverak asked.
Former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, now vice chairman at the tax consulting firm alliantgroup, said he rarely visited the White House and that his chief of staff was there infrequently. But his time at the helm of the agency ended before the implantation of the massive Affordable Health Care act known as Obamacare, Everson noted.
“The involvement of the service in a major domestic initiative like the Affordable Care Act does create the risk that the independence of the IRS can be eroded, and that is of concern,” Everson said.
Davis described his position at the IRS on the business social networking site LinkedIn as “strategy lead and adviser to IRS Commissioner” between 2008 until 2012, with a focus on modernizing the agency’s technology and implementing “significant new economic programs.”
The White House logs list Davis’ “time of arrival” for 85 visits, but that does not necessarily mean Davis was present for all or some of the other 225 meetings. Only a handful of meetings are listed as cancelled.
Neither the White House nor the IRS responded to requests about the frequency or nature of the visits.
Shulman and other IRS staff say many of their visits centered around implementation of the health care law and since Davis is skilled in data and technology development, he may have been working with the administration to modernize the IRS, which will play a primary role enforcing the health care law.
Many of the meetings Davis attended took place in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House campus. Other meetings took place within the White House.
Davis met there with economic policy advisor Jason Furman and Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council. Davis also had meetings scheduled with Nancy-Ann DeParle, then Obama’s deputy chief of staff for policy; Cecilia Munoz, head of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council; Chris Lu, assistant to the president and cabinet secretary; and Alan Krueger, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.
Shulman’s tenure at the IRS ended in 2012. He was succeeded by Steven Miller, who was recently forced to resign following the revelation that IRS agents were targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
During Miller’s tenure, his chief of staff was Nikole Flax, who also regularly visited the administration officials in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and made several visits to the White House.
In 2008 and 2009 she served as a senior technical advisor in the agency’s now-embattled Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division, which is under congressional investigation for targeting conservative groups.
Flax helped to write the IRS response to the audit that uncovered the targeting, according to transcripts of interviews with IRS staff conducted by congressional investigators.
White House logs show Flax, during her time at the IRS, met with Munoz as well as health care advisors Ezekiel Emanuel and Jeanne Lambrew.