Revelations that the Cincinnati office of the IRS deliberately withheld non-profit status from groups affiliated with the tea party not only require a full investigation into how widespread the profiling went, as the president has promised, but also a restructuring of the agency.
According to Lois Lerner, director of IRS exempt organizations, IRS workers profiled organizations with words and phrases such as “patriot,” “We the People” and “tea party” during the 2012 election cycle. The workers obstructed those organizations from gaining 501(c)(4) status by requesting information that wasn’t legally required. For example, IRS workers asked conservative groups inappropriate questions about their donor lists. According to The Washington Post, the IRS also stalled on approving applications for groups that wanted to investigate voter fraud. Non-profits with 501(c)(4) status are permitted to advertise for political campaigns.
That translates to the IRS blocking groups from raising money for conservative candidates and causes. Fundraising is a critical element of election campaigns. By preventing conservative groups from fundraising, the IRS, in effect, may have tainted the 2012 election results.
This scandal can’t be excused away as bureaucratic bumbling. In addition to the partisan behavior in Cincinnati, reports now indicate similar behavior in IRS offices in Washington and California. That means the IRS has been peopling its staff with those of a certain ideological bent who see fit to use the power of the IRS to squash conservative causes. The investigation into the IRS has to encompass whom it has been hiring and who has been rejected to fill its positions. Has it been rejecting competent applicants because they don’t toe the party line?
The IRS is an incredibly powerful organization. It has the power to demand audits of organizations, businesses and individuals that cost thousands, if not millions, of dollars in accountants’ and lawyers’ fees and doesn’t have to reimburse a dime of it even if no wrongdoing is proven. But the real power lies in deciding which, out of the millions of returns it receives each year, to scrutinize, to flag for possible violations of the tax code. If IRS workers intentionally targeted conservative groups, it’s highly likely that they used their power to audit individuals and corporations that didn’t profess the “right” ideology.
This scandal is a clear and serious abuse of power. Such partisan use of the IRS violates its constitutional mandate of being an unbiased agency. Those responsible have to be brought to justice and prosecuted. The IRS obviously has to undergo a major restructuring at all levels in how it hires. Not paying attention to the constitution is just as much a violation of federal law as not paying taxes.