IRS

At the Core of the IRS Saga: Tax Collectors as Political Hitmen

|

Lois Lerner
CSPAN

It's all good fun to mock the Internal Revenue Service's plausibility-challenged explanations for just how potentially embarrassing (to the IRS)  emails were lost and why they can't be recovered, but let's not forget what's at the core of the story: the tax collection agency's long and storied history as a political hitman. IRS audits have been targeted at political opponents of incumbent presidents, tax information has been leaked about enemies of powerful members of Congress, and the agency's own employees have abused their power for personal reasons.

We got a reminder of the IRS's history earier this week when the National Organization for Marriage, a socially conservative group, announced the settlement of its lawsuit against the tax agency for leaking information about donors, including 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

On Tuesday, the group announced:

In response to a lawsuit brought by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has admitted wrongdoing in releasing the organization's confidential tax return and donor list which was obtained by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), NOM's chief political rival. The IRS has agreed to pay NOM $50,000 to settle the lawsuit.

Specifically, says NOM, the group's 2008 tax return and donor list was turned over to activist Matthew Meisel, who then gave it to the Human Rights Campaign which distributed it to the media.

Not surprisingly, since the leaked information was used against their last presidential candidate, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee took an interest in the case. Congressional pressure may well have induced the IRS to surrender, admit error, and turn over a little cash it mugged from other taxpayers to make nice with NOM, but it couldn't get the Department of Justice to take an interest in the case. Shocker.

"The DOJ's refusal to take any action to protect taxpayers demonstrates why this Committee, and the American people, cannot trust their supposed investigation into the IRS targeting, let alone the protection of the constitutional rights of conservatives," complained House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) the day the settlement was announced.

Well, same as it ever was. The IRS has never been a safe tool in any administration's hands. It never will be, so long as it remains such a tempting weapon for whoever wields its excessive power.

Camp wants a special prosecutor to look into the IRS's behavior. But that behavior is inevitable, so long as a government body as dangerous as the IRS is allowed to exist.

Advertisement

NEXT: Common Core Tests: So Difficult, Bureaucrats Had to Implement a Curve Under Which Kids Can Guess Randomly and Still Pass

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The IRS has agreed to pay NOM $50,000 to settle the lawsuit.

    No, TAXPAYERS will pay NOM $50k. This is the problem! The f’ers in the IRS should be personally responsible. Take the $50k from their salaries, bonuses, etc.

    1. It’ll never happen, which is why this will never, ever get fixed or get better. There is no incentive for fixing it, and every incentive for continuing to use the IRS as a political weapon. Incentives matter more than anything else.

    2. Fire them first, and take the $50K from their pensions.

    3. Excellent point We are getting hosed either way. Take it out of their pensions. Strip Lois of her pension and make her spend 5-10 in an orange jump suit.

  2. Well, same as it ever was. The IRS has never been a safe tool in any administration’s hands. It never will be, so long as it remains such a tempting weapon for whoever wields its excessive power.

    That is true so far as it goes. But you show me an example from any previous administration R or D of the IRS being misused like this. I can’t recall one.

    Yes, the IRS is a dangerous weapon and politicizing it is a disaster. That fact, however, doesn’t excuse Obama for using that weapon where others hadn’t before.

    So it is not the same as it ever was. Stop claiming otherwise.

    1. It may not be the same as it ever was, but it’s going to be that way from now on. Obama popped the cherry (at least more than it had been), and every scumbag president (all of them, in other words) will now know they can use it and get away with it. So they will.

      1. Definitely. And we can thank Obama for crossing that Rubicon. Like I say below, this was only inevitable in the sense that the country would eventually elect someone like Obama who is a big enough scumbag to do it.

        1. Actually, FDR politicized the IRS, instructing it to destroy Andrew Mellon, an old-school capitalist and political opponent.

          JFK’s Ideological Organizations Project, documented in the Reuther Report, listed IRS harassment as a means to counter the incipient conservative movement.

          Nixon tried, but failed, to politicize the IRS. There are no substantive allegations of IRS politicization by Eisenhauer, Reagan, or the Bushies.

          Political contributions by IRS employees split something like 95%/5% between Democrats and Republicans.

          Both history and the political orientation of IRS employees suggest that only some presidents will get the IRS to crush political opposition.

      2. As Cato suggests below, it’s not clear to me that it will be possible for douchebags in both parties in this way. Unless they can do away with strong civil service protections, Republican presidents are going to find a hostile bureucracy and a hostile media. Democrats won’t likely face that obstacle.

    2. Nixon did make a minor attempt, but the IRS at the time refused to go along. I can’t think of any other instances.

      1. The FBI and DoJ also stood up to Nixon during his desperate last-ditch attempts to block the investigation into Watergate.

        Hard to see those organs under this administration doing so again.

        1. Later presidents learned to put cronies and yes-men in those positions so they would never stand up for them. In his way, Nixon helped them out by showing them what not to do.

          “Our planet has been through a lot this year, but we have not forgotten what is truly important…the great taste of Charleston Chew!”

    3. IRS audits have been targeted at political opponents of incumbent presidents

      Nope. The IRS is a lefty populated organization. Dick Cheney said he was audited every year that he was W’s VP.

  3. But that behavior is inevitable, so long as a government body as dangerous as the IRS is allowed to exist.

    If it is inevitable, why didn’t it happen under other administrations? No, it is not inevitable. To say that it is is to imply that these things just happened and Obama and Lerner and the rest of them are just victims of the system man. Ah no. Stop it JD. This was inevitable only in the sense that yes the country would eventually get a President like Obama who is corrupt enough, stupid enough and brazen enough to do it.

    1. I’m not certain the types who apply for work at the IRS will obey a future adversarial president the way they obeyed the current administration.

  4. The main goal of any political leader is to maintain and/or grow power. The IRS is a spectacular weapon for this endeavor.

  5. Camp wants a special prosecutor to look into the IRS’s behavior. But that behavior is inevitable, so long as a government body as dangerous as the IRS is allowed to exist.

    Yeah, special prosecutors are usually given incentive not to rock the boat too much. But in this case I think the partisanship is a good thing since this shit needs to be snuffed out the day before yesterday.

  6. I’m willing to believe that this was inevitable. Therefore the IRS must be abolished and a flat tax instituted immediately.

    1. A flat tax of 0%. If politicians and bureaucrats want money, they can hold a bake sale.

      1. That’s ideal. But I’m willing to give up 5 percent of my earnings in exchange for leaving me the fuck alone. I know it’s a protection racket, but fuck it.

        1. Yeah: collect 5% in November every year. Once you know the total, sit down in December and figure out what you can spend it on the following year. Politicians & staffers salaries come last.

  7. What’s unique about their recent crimes is that previously, the IRS was used to go after bigshots for partisan purposes. Now it’s been used to go after ordinary citizens.

    As for Obama “popping the cherry”: no. The IRS is now just another wing of the Democratic party. It’s ludicrous to imagine that they would do the bidding of a Republican president and go after progressive groups.

  8. Worked for IRS at the Automated Collection Services as an collection & enforcement specialist (1989-1990 resigned position due to these types of problems) and these activities were commonplace. The IRS would create tax problems to justify its processes. The IRS knows who can afford fight them with personal assets ($$) and/or associations with organizations. Back then (89-90) these political actions couldn’t happen with the Branch Managers written approval.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.