In a recent column, Obama vs. Founding Fathers on Tyranny, I briefly mentioned the IRS’ persecution of conservative groups. But since I wrote that, the scandal has proven to be much worse than I thought.
For a time, the IRS tried to scapegoat a couple of low-level employees in Cincinnati. But this became increasingly implausible when the scope of the harassment was revealed. Really, is it remotely plausible that IRS employees from Ohio were asking irrelevant and intrusive questions of Tea Party groups in other states? It was hardly even a question of revenue, because many of these groups’ total turnover would be far less than the money spent on the time and paperwork sent and received. For example, hear Dianne Belsom, President of Laurens County Tea Party, explain the obviously politically motivated IRS questioning, a clear case of “the process is the punishment” (and they are still waiting after almost three years since filing):
As the scandal grew, the head of the IRS’s tax-exempt organizations office, Lois Lerner, had to explain things. First, she apologized for the targeting, then really put her foot in it by saying “I’m not good at math.” This was too much even for the left-winger Jon Stewart. He lambasted the problem of a mathematically challenged leader in the organization that calculates our taxes, as well as the fact that the IRS would never let a taxpayer off with a simple apology (excuse the bleeped-out profanities).
A genuine apology should make amends. So where is the fast-tracking of those groups held up, and compensation for their expenses in complying with the unlawful demands? And since the IRS charges harsh penalties even for honest mistakes or even lateness in filing, the IRS should pay a penalty to these groups in addition to their costs.
Lois Lerner’s history of anti-conservative harassment
Under the Clinton administration, Lois Lerner was high up in the Federal Election Commission. She also used this position to harass conservative groups and favor Democratic groups. She harassed the Christian Coalition for three election cycles. She lost her case. Lerner even asked one conservative during the case if Pat Robertson prayed over him. So it’s small wonder that the IRS under her direction demanded of the Coalition for Life of Iowa: “Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers.” But then, President Bush appointed her to a high position in the IRS where she could continue this harassment, now with an even more powerful government department behind her. (Although I have repeatedly pointed out how misguided third-party voters are, the dreadful appointments by Republican Presidents, such as Obamacare-loving Chief Justice Roberts provide good reason for their resentment of Republicans).
It has become clear that Lerner herself, not the two Cincinnati zealots she blamed, was behind the harassment. She knew about this targeting in June 2011. Even worse, she even signed some of the harassment letters herself. On the other hand, she speedily approved exemption for the Barack H. Obama Foundation.Furthermore, this organization had been breaking the law by soliciting tax-deductible donations before the IRS determined its eligibility as tax-exempt. No problem for Lerner—she granted the exemption retro-actively.
But when summoned before Congress, Lerner gave a spiel about how law-abiding and innocent she was, then ‘pled the fifth’. That’s interesting, because the actual text of the amendment includes: “No person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself (emphasis added).” We should probably take her at her implied word that she acted criminally. In any case, as Trey Gowdy (R–SC) pointed out, she waived her rights when she testified about her innocence, so she could (and should) be recalled.
Now Lerner has been placed on “Administrative Leave”, which really means a vacation paid $3,557.69 per week by the taxpayer. But surely any leading government official who refuses to testify before Congress should be fired from her position.
The wider problem
This political abuse by the IRS has far wider repercussions, which will not be solved by simply firing Lois Lerner and her cronies—although that’s a start. It undermines what little trust the American people had in the IRS in the first place. This ostensibly apolitical Government branch has clearly become politicized. Indeed, IRS employees gave far more to Democrats than Republicans.
But will this awaken the American people? Probably not. They have already been numbed to the fact that the Department of Education and the Government Schools are essentially the Youth Agitprop Wing of the Democratic Party. At best, the people will call for the firing of the most blatant abusers. But this will never solve the problem. By its very nature, a government department will attract employees who believe in the power and expansion of government—Democrats (and RINOs). So the only solution is to remove these unconstitutional departments, and refuse to start any more.
The other major problem is that Americans can no longer trust the integrity of the electoral processes. It is very likely that the IRS’ political side-taking cost the Republicans many Senate positions and possibly even the White House
A lesson from history
There is a famous event in 12th-century English history, involving King Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Becket. Henry and Thomas were old friends, and Henry appointed him Archbishop (this is the sort of thing our First Amendment was designed to stop—the State appointing church leaders, not expunging Christianity from Society). But Becket soon quarrelled with his former friend, especially when insisting that priests who committed secular crimes should be exempt from secular courts. The last straw was after a supposed reconciliation, Becket excommunicated three supporters of Henry. So Henry exclaimed, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and promoted in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!” (Sometimes paraphrased as “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”)
Four knights took Henry at his word and went to arrest Becket. When Becket resisted, the knights hacked him to death before the altar. This horrifying deed turned the previously arrogant and unpopular Becket into a martyr. And while King Henry didn’t actually order the murder, he recognized that his angry words were responsible for the knights’ actions. So he literally repented in dust and ashes, hairshirt, and flogging.
The buck stops at the White House
What all that history was leading to was: even if the White House had given no direct order to harass opposition groups, it had created a climate where Democratic hacks at the IRS took it as their duty to do so. Charles Krauthammer writes:
“Does the IRS scandal go all the way up to the top? As of now, doubtful. It’s nearly inconceivable that anyone would be stupid enough to have given such a politically fatal directive from the White House (although admittedly the bar is rapidly falling).
“But when some bureaucrat is looking for cues from above, it matters when the president of the United States denounces the Supreme Court decision that allowed the proliferation of 501(c)4s and specifically calls the resulting “special interest groups” running ads to help Republicans “not just a threat to Democrats—that’s a threat to our democracy.” That’s especially telling when it comes amid letters from Democratic senators to the IRS urging aggressive scrutiny of 501(c)4 applications.
“A White House can powerfully shape other perceptions as well. For years the administration has conducted a concerted campaign to demonize Fox News, delegitimizing it as a news organization, even urging its ostracism. Then (surprise!) its own Justice Department takes the unprecedented step of naming a Fox reporter a co-conspirator in a leak case—when no reporter has ever been prosecuted for merely soliciting information—in order to invade his and Fox’s private and journalistic communications.”
There is also a “must-read” article in the Wall Street Journal from May 23, 2013: Conservatives Became Targets in 2008—The Obama campaign played a big role in a liberal onslaught that far pre-dated Citizens United:
“Bob Bauer, general counsel for the campaign (and later general counsel for the White House), on the same day wrote to the criminal division of the Justice Department, demanding an investigation into AIP [the conservative American Issues Project], ‘its officers and directors, and its ’anonymous donors.’ Mr. Bauer claimed that the nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), was committing a ‘knowing and willful violation’ of election law, and wanted ‘action to enforce against criminal violations.’”
It will never be enough to fire all those responsible. We must also ensure that it never happens again. And the only way to ensure that a government department can’t be hijacked by politicians is to strip it of most of its powers. I’ll leave you with this classic 1978 video clip by the great Milton Friedman: Why Tax Reform Is Impossible.