NO COUNTRY FOR OLD TAX EXEMPTS

There is more and more light being shed on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents who targeted right-leaning political non-profit groups for heightened scrutiny during the 2012 election campaign. Although the IRS has apologized for this, questions remain as to who knew what when. That’s a variation on the Watergate meme of “what did Richard Nixon know and when did he know it?”

It does appear that this scrutiny dates back as far as at least mid-2011.

But on June 29, 2011, Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to the watchdog’s report. At the meeting, she was told that groups with “Tea Party,” `’Patriot” or “9/12 Project” in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, the report says.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/11/irs-tea-party_n_3260286.html

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee, maintains that this problem is entirely a concoction of lower level IRS employees. That may prove to be the case but Shulman’s word should not be the last one.

Nor, right now, are there any credible allegations that anyone in the White House conceived this plan or had any knowledge of it. But the results of any investigation must assure us that this is true. For if someone in the White House is involved, it be will be damned difficult for President Obama not to be implicated.

Recall that misusing the IRS for political reasons was one of the impeachment counts lodged against Richard Nixon. Had he not resigned ample evidence existed that may have led to his conviction on that count.

Americans of all stripes have a natural distrust about the IRS. While many are worried their misdeeds will be detected, probably most of us honestly believe we are at least trying not to cheat but still get nervous stomach any time we have contact with the IRS other than to obtain our filing forms or receive our refund checks.

For the most part in our history any paranoia has been unfounded. But it is occasions such as this that can generate enormous hate against the agency that impedes its normal functions and creates an atmosphere in which any government entity is looked on with suspicion.

Tax exempts are a special category that does deserve scrutiny. However, the potential for misdirected scrutiny can be high for any organization that is both tax exempt and operates in a manner that brings controversy.

One generally is not going to find IRS shenanigans concerning your average food pantry, or cancer fighting fund-raising group or your church on the corner that concentrates on serving its congregation instead of involving itself in social and political causes.

Last year Stephen Colbert, on his eponymous Comedy Central TV show, played with creating a Superpac to demonstrate how IRS regulations pertinent to such an organization’s money trail could be exploited easily and legally so the public never learns what happens with the money.

It is perfectly understandable why the government encourages the formation of tax-exempt groups with charitable or socially beneficial purposes. But there is opportunity within these organizations for abuse, not merely from corrupt individuals running them, but due to their very nature.

It may be the time to revisit this issue to explore whether the purposes of these organizations should be narrowly defined in order to qualify them for tax-exempt status and then regulated suffciently to ensure these purposes are met. That way we may avoid the pitfalls of permitting groups that have their own survival as their goal more than any public good to take advantage of this status.

In addition there would then also be far less incentive to manipulate the IRS to annoy, harrass, or otherwise mistreat them.

Look. It is pretty obvious that I have no love for the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, or any other group that makes ludicrous assertations about Obama and liberals that have little or no basis in fact. But if these groups qualify for tax-exempt status under present law I vehemently object to this unwarranted IRS scrutiny solely on the basis of their ideas and beliefs.

It is plain wrong and probably illegal. So investigate fully and identify whomever was responsible for these actions, countenanced them in their positions of oversight, or had the power to instigate them by exceutive fiat de facto or by inferred derivative power. And I do mean whomever.

Then let the punishment fit the crime.

 

Correction/Clarification

Reference to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman was proper and he was a Bush appointee. However he resigned in November and no new IRS Commissioner is in place. Thus the call by Marco Rubio for his resignation now won’t quite work.

Update at 1:20 a.m. 5-14-13

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Comments

  • Little_Minx  On May 12, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    “Last year Stephen Colbert, on his eponymous Comedy Central TV show…” [sic! sic! sic]. Colbert is the eponym, i.e., what the show is named after. The phrase thus should read:

    “Last year Stephen Colbert, on his namesake Comedy Central TV show…”

  • toadsly  On May 13, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    Great post! Quite disconcerting.

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