A powerful arm of the government engaged in a targeted campaign aimed at political groups that differ from their point of view. That’s a story you expect to see in Russia, or Egypt, or Venezuela, or countless other banana republic’s across the world. But not in the United States of America, the bastion of freedom and democracy.
And yet, the Associated Press reports:
“The Internal Revenue Service apologized Friday for what it has acknowledged was ‘inappropriate’ targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.
IRS agents singled out dozens of organizations for additional reviews because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their exemption applications, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for lists of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.”
This is a stunning admission that backs up complaints Tea Party groups were making last year when the IRS was demanding information about their contributors, political affiliation, and even family members.
“This has nothing to do with tax status,” Tom Zawistowski, of the Tea Party affiliated Ohio Liberty Council, told Fox News. “It has to do with political affiliation. The questions are too close to home.”
“It’s very intimidating and people are scared,” added Colleen Owens, another Tea Party activist.
Unsurprisingly, many lefty media outlets immediately dismissed the groups as paranoid and delusional, which fit in nicely with the narrative they were trying to pin on the Tea Party.
“Uh-huh. The sound you hear is the world’s smallest violin, say, a teeny-tiny Stradivarius insured for millions,” writes PBS’s Bill Moyers. “Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America’s multimillionaires and billionaires,” asked Paul Waldman at The American Prospect, presumably typecasting the donors of the Tea Party groups.
The New York Times was less antagonistic, but nonetheless carried on the dismissive tone. Indeed the Times argued that the “inquiries are long overdue” and rather than review its practices, the IRS “must not flinch from its duty to enforce the tax code and root out political operatives.”
Fortunately, it was the conservative groups who did not flinch.
“We knew from the very start that this intimidation tactic was coordinated and focused directly on specific organizations,” Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said in a statement. “This admission by the IRS represents a significant victory for free speech and freedom and association.”
It’s impossible to understate the importance of getting to the bottom of this issue. Free and fair elections are the hallmark of any true democracy. If the United States wishes to continue shining as a beacon for freedom then its voters must believe that the system is not rigged in any way. For the IRS, a powerful arm of the state, to display a political preference threatens the integrity of the entire system.
Indeed, it harkens back to the dark days of the Nixon Administration, which used the IRS as a tool to target its political foes. Nixon developed the now-infamous “enemies list,” which he selectively audited. The goal of the list, according to the White House Counsel’s Office was to “maximize the fact of our incumbency” by “us[ing] the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”
So I guess I may have misstated things at the beginning of this post. The Obama Administration isn’t taking us down the road to Russia-esque oligarchy, it’s just taking us back to the days of Nixon. Either way, not exactly the progress we were promised.