TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1589: The Better IRS Reform

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Wall Street Journal editorial, The Better IRS Reform:

The long saga of Lois Lerner is coming to a close. Ms. Lerner was the infamous Obama Administration cat’s paw at the Internal Revenue Service, which harassed conservative political groups in the Tea Party era. Now the Trump Justice Department has decided there is no cause to pursue criminal charges against Ms. Lerner, and Congressional Republicans are howling. ...

Republicans are furious. But this mess happened because the Obama Administration used federal bureaucracies for raw political purposes. If Mr. Sessions’s Justice Department has found no way to prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt, Republicans could begin the road back to accountability by respecting that decision.

What House Republicans should do now is create a structure that will stop assaults by bureaucrats on political activity. They’ve been putting riders in spending bills to bar the IRS from imposing restrictions on nonprofit speech. But this thumbs-in-the-dike approach does nothing about powers that IRS functionaries already have over political activity.

The solution is to get the IRS out of the political arena by limiting its role to the most basic administrative task of giving initial approval to nonprofits. Transfer to the Federal Election Commission the job of deciding whether a nonprofit is abiding by the existing rules governing political spending. The FEC’s commissioners would decide if complaints against the political activities of nonprofits had merit.

Democrats will rebel because the design of the FEC makes it difficult to sic the commission on political enemies. That’s why they made the IRS their political enforcer. Legislators designed the FEC to prevent partisans from turning it into a political weapon.

It takes a majority vote among its six bipartisan FEC commissioners to proceed with a judgment. Commissioners are confirmed by the Senate and operate in the open. The status quo gives this job—and power—to the IRS’s unconfirmed, unseen federal bureaucrats.

Campaign-finance fights make Republicans nervous, but they’ve got a political self-interest in permanently transferring this job to the FEC. Once back in power, Democrats will mobilize a crackdown against their single biggest obsession—“dark money.” Meaning the conservatives who fund their opposition.

Lois Lerner’s IRS operation was the swamp at its worst. The GOP would do the country’s politics a favor by draining these bureaucrats of partisan political power.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/09/the-irs-scandal-day-1589-the-better-irs-reform.html

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Comments

As a federal government employee, how about no collective bargaining, and no political donations allowed?

This pretense of the non-partisan public employee didn't hold water before the election, and it's transparently false after the election. The same goes for journalists. And a few other self-important professions...

Posted by: MM | Sep 14, 2017 7:48:04 AM

Nixon only attempted to subvert the IRS for political purposes and it was a charge on his bill of impeachment. The Obama administration accomplished it and the Republicans in congress don't care enough to make sure it doesn't happen again. Disgusting.

Posted by: VoteOutIncumbents | Sep 14, 2017 8:10:21 AM

Set up the tax code so the vast majority of citizens can file their taxes on a post card and you can get rid of the bulk of these IRS employees. They could also disband all government employee unions which would eliminate the Democrats ability to recruit those employees to do their political damage.

Posted by: bflat879 | Sep 14, 2017 8:18:35 AM