Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The IRS Scandal, Day 131

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USA Today op-ed:  Clean up the IRS, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds (Tennessee):

The IRS Scandal, which has slumbered over the summer as Congress has been in recess, seems to be waking up.

It has now been over four months since the IRS admitted it was targeting conservative groups in the run-up to the 2012 election. The chief IRS official in charge of Exempt Organizations, Lois Lerner, has "taken the Fifth" -- invoking her right against self-incrimination in order to avoid testifying before Congress on what went on. Nonetheless, President Obama -- who himself "joked" about auditing his enemies -- has lumped the IRS misconduct in with what he calls "phony scandals."

But new emails have come out that make the IRS scandal look anything but phony. Emails recovered by the House Ways and Means Committee demonstrate that the targeting of Tea Party groups -- and of voter-integrity groups -- was orchestrated from the top of the agency. Rather than being conducted by a few rogue employees in the Cincinnati office of the IRS, the Tea Party targeting was regarded by Lerner as something "very dangerous" politically, and she observed that "Cincy should probably NOT have these cases."

The emails also reveal Lerner's concerns that the Democrats might lose their Senate majority, and her hopes that the Federal Election Commission might "save the day" by interfering with right-leaning grassroots activity. The IRS also shared information with the FEC, something not permitted by statute, raising questions about just how politicized both agencies were. ...

It seems to me that there are two possible problems here. One is that this came from the Obama White House. The other is that the -- overwhelmingly Democratic -- career civil service at the IRS didn't need White House instructions to go after Tea Party groups it saw as enemies.

The first possibility is bad enough, but is presumably remediable with stricter rules. The second possibility, however, calls into question the possibility of a nonpartisan career civil service, and certainly the possibility of fair administration for something as complex, and involving as many discretionary decisions, as the Internal Revenue Code. Worse yet, given that overwhelming partisan identification with Democrats pervades the civil service as a whole, it calls into question the very possibility of a nonpartisan and politically neutral civil service. ...

It's doubtful that Eric Holder's Justice Department -- which is even more partisan and politicized than the IRS -- will clean this mess up. Nor is Holder likely to appoint a special prosecutor. So it's up to congressional investigators to get to the bottom of it. Stay tuned.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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