May 13 2013
IRS: Patriot Is a Dirty Word
The Internal Revenue Service scandal is looking worse by the day.
It is the perfect scandal to remind us of something President Obama wants us to forget: that a healthy skepticism about the workings of big government is a very good thing for free citizens of a republic.
No institution strikes more fear into the hearts of the average (or even the rich!) citizen than the IRS. It has powers of coercion that no other branch of the federal government possesses. And this vastly powerful agency has for several years been singling out conservative-leaning and (apparently) Jewish organizations for special attention. National Review editors explain:
The organizations that were improperly targeted were subject to inquisitorial questioning in violation of IRS policies and practices. The IRS improperly demanded that conservative groups disclose lists of donors — 501(c)(4) donors can remain anonymous under the law — as well as political literature, contacts with political figures and activists, even activities of friends and family members not related to the organizations in question. Jewish groups were quizzed about their theological beliefs and their opinions on Israel.
There are at least three separate categories of wrongdoing here. The first is the targeting of groups that were believed to be critical of the Obama administration or the federal government in general. The second is the demanding of information that was irrelevant to the tax-status questions at hand, which would have been wrong even if the practice had been applied evenhandedly across the political spectrum. The third is the misleading of Congress and the public about these practices….
To target individuals and organizations because of their political and religious beliefs is a serious offense to our constitutional order. To use federal employees, offices, and records to do so is the misappropriation of government funds and other resources.
It should disgust every American that the IRS targeted organizations that featured in their names such words as “tea party” and “patriot,” honored and honorable words in our nation’s history. There was also an enormous element of self-preservation in what the IRS did—organizations that advocated lower taxes and cutting government were singled out for harassment.
I bit on an agency official’s statement that the surveillance of conservative organizations was begun and conducted by low-level employees in Cincinnati. That was frightening enough. But it is beginning to be clear that the intimidation of conservative groups was something bigger.
The Wall Street Journal reports that an investigation reveals that a high-ranking government official know conservative groups were being targeted as early as mid-2011. We also need to know what was done with the information the IRS collected.
The IRS won’t be able to escape an investigation of this. But maybe in addition to an investigation we should debate whether an agency as powerful as the IRS is appropriate for a democracy. A number of tax reform plans put forward by Republicans would have eliminated the IRS. It is time to reignite discussion of such reforms.
I leave you with one thought: the IRS will become more invasive when ObamaCare’s individual mandate goes into effect next year. You will have to give the IRS details about your health insurance plan.
Think about that.