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


Lois Lerner

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.