Paul L. Caron

Saturday, May 11, 2013

WaPo and WSJ Agree: IRS Targeting of Conservatives Is Appalling

Following up on yesterday's post, IRS Admits to Targeting Conservative Groups in 2012 Election:

Washington Post editorial, Playing Politics With Tax Records:

A bedrock principle of U.S. democracy is that the coercive powers of government are never used for partisan purpose. The law is blind to political viewpoint, and so are its enforcers, most especially the FBI and the IRS. Any violation of this principle threatens the trust and the voluntary cooperation of citizens upon which this democracy depends.

So it was appalling to learn Friday that the IRS had improperly targeted conservative groups for scrutiny. It was almost as disturbing that President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have not personally apologized to the American people and promised a full investigation. 

“Mistakes were made,” the agency said in a statement. IRS official Lois Lerner explained that staffers used a “shortcut” to sort through a large number of applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status, highlighting organizations with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names. The IRS insisted emphatically that partisanship had nothing to do with it. However, it seems that groups with “progressive” in their titles did not receive the same scrutiny.If it was not partisanship, was it incompetence? Stupidity, on a breathtaking scale? At this point, the IRS has lost any standing to determine and report on what exactly happened. Certainly Congress will investigate, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised. Mr. Obama also should guarantee an unimpeachably independent inquiry. 

Wall Street Journal editorial, The IRS Targets Conservatives:

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean the IRS isn't out to get you. We only wish that were a joke. On Friday, an IRS official disclosed for the first time, and by way of apologizing, that the agency that wields the taxing power of the federal government had targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny during the 2012 election season. Apology or not, that can't be the end of the matter.

The stunning admission didn't emerge in an official statement by a senior official at the Treasury Department, which supervises the IRS. Instead, IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner disclosed it on Friday in response to a question from the audience at a meeting of American Bar Association tax lawyers in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Lerner acknowledged that the agency had flagged groups with the words "tea party" or "patriot" to have their tax returns inspected, presumably with an eye on the legality of their tax exemption. Ms. Lerner called this "inappropriate," which it certainly was, and she said it wasn't done "out of any political bias," which is hard to believe. If there was no political bias, why were only conservative groups targeted? White House spokesman Jay Carney also called the IRS actions "inappropriate" on Friday, which makes that the word of the day.

Ms. Lerner added the tax inspections were carried out entirely by low-level workers in Cincinnati without any direction from Washington. Forgive us if we also don't take that claim as gospel.

Even if the idea did arise as some kind of spontaneous Cincinnati political combustion, where could they possibly have come up with the idea that targeting the tea party might be a good career move? That certainly was the uber political message coming out of the White House, even if it wasn't a directive from the top of the IRS. Another question is who stopped the "inappropriate" requests once they were discovered. Was anyone punished? And how far up the chain of command did knowledge go? ...

Republicans were up in arms Friday about the IRS disclosure, and rightly so. We assume they will use their oversight power in the House to find out what happened, and whether these Cincinnati kids were really operating on their own.

Other than the power to prosecute, the taxing authority is the most awesome power the government has. It can ruin people and companies. When wielded for political purposes, it is a violation of the basic contract the American people have with their government. The abuse admitted by Ms. Lerner can't be dismissed in a casual apology on a casual Friday as no big deal. It's a very big and bad deal.

Update:   From the Associated Press:

Senior Internal Revenue Service officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general's report obtained by The Associated Press that seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner. ...

Among the other revelations, on Aug. 4, 2011, staffers in the IRS’ Rulings and Agreements office “held a meeting with chief counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue.”

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A point well worth keeping in mind is that the Obama Administration has and is empowering the IRS to monitor, penalize and fine with little Constitutional basis or oversight. Obamacare and, even more menacing-FATCA - with its draconian regulations that are ruining the lives of overseas Americans and making them pariahs unable to obtain banking services in the countries they live in. Senator Rand Paul gets a lot of flak for his positions but sometimes he is right on point. Reining in FATCA and protecting Anerican citizens privacy in their financial and tax records deserves his support. This latest scandal with the IRS proves his point.

Posted by: Steve Klaus | May 14, 2013 2:04:35 AM

But they don't seem to mind targeting Americans living abroad with FATCA outing and offshore FBAR penalties, now do they?

Posted by: Just Me | May 13, 2013 10:37:59 PM

I would not hire anyone for any job if they were unable to calculate 1/4th of 300.
That woman is evidence of the low standards of the entire educational system.
The law school which granted her a diploma should be closed.

Posted by: Gingerhead | May 11, 2013 8:09:20 PM

This deplorable practice is just another indication of the general ineptitude of the Obama Administration (see Libya). Regardless of what one thinks in general of the President and his programs, his administration of government operations has been a woeful disaster.

But let's also acknowledge that the idea that tax exempt organizations are not participating in the political process on both sides is just plain wrong. The reality is also that because of politics these groups cannot be pursued by the IRS even when they blatantly violate the law. In America today and in the future tax exempt organizations are and will be openly political and not be in danger of losing their tax exempt status. That's just the way it is, get used to it.

Posted by: David R. | May 11, 2013 5:06:28 PM

Sure....and while people focus on this IRS false flag story, a news conference exposing Obama's complicity in the death of over 20 Navy Seals back in August of 2011, in Afghanistan, basically goes unreported by the MSM.
I'm not saying that we should ignore this story about the IRS, just saying that more important things were going on at the same time this story was "released" to the public. Since when have any one of us trusted the IRS??
Again, nothing was reported about an Islamic Iman saying a prayer over the bodies of these Seals, basically condemning them to Hell, or any other facts about Obama's having them killed.

Posted by: Michael | May 11, 2013 12:28:52 PM

For anyone tempted to dismiss this as no big deal, or to spin it as GOP scaremongering, a simple thought experiment.

Replace the target - instead of groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their names, imagine the reaction if the IRS had targeted groups with the words "African" or "Black" in their names.

Posted by: Todd | May 11, 2013 10:02:10 AM

Conservatives are overthinking this. It's really quite simple.

Extreme partisans believe that the ends justify the means. That thinking leads revolutionary leaders to become dictators.

Extreme partisans also tend to have a dramatically distorted view of where the center lies. Extremists will tell you that Ronald Reagan was not conservative enough or that Barack Obama is not liberal enough. When such people make a judgment of what policy is sufficiently mainstream to be implemented, trouble ensues.

Extreme partisans should not be permitted to work in government, but that would mean firing most of the White House staff for the past 100 years. It sounds good, but who gets to decide which people are extreme partisans?

Posted by: AMTbuff | May 11, 2013 9:37:28 AM