IRS targeting of tea party ominous

Published 8:34am Thursday, May 16, 2013

Did you know that using the Internal Revenue Service to settle political scores was among the Articles of Impeachment drafted against President Richard Nixon just prior to his resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal?
Among the charges Nixon was about to face in a trial in the Senate was the accusation he caused “income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.”
Now I’m not saying that’s something that should be pursued in this current uproar about the IRS targeting conservative groups for “additional scrutiny” over a two-year period from 2010 to 2012. In other words, the IRS specifically harassed groups opposed to the sitting president from their moment of true ascention — the 2010 midterms — to what could be described as it’s lowest point — the failure to defeat President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election.
Throughout that period and beyond, tea party groups were the all-purpose liberal bogeyman.
Now to say that tea party members and the IRS were natural adversaries isn’t really a leap. Around here, the “TEA” was spelled out “Taxed Enough Already.”
That doesn’t give the taxman the right to specifically target the groups for death by paperwork. When the Wetumpka Tea Party applied for 501(c)4 status with the IRS, though, they first faced a delay that stretched well beyond the advertised “around two months,” founder Becky Gerritson told me Tuesday.
Then, about a year and a half later, they received an eight-page questionaire demanding more information. That more information included specific details about volunteers and donors, exhaustive financial information and a mountain of paperwork demands estimated to take thousands of hours to prepare.
For a local volunteer group of housewives, small business people and retirees, it made tax exemption an Everest-level peak to scale.
Gerritson said she learned, through her conservative friends across the nation, that more than 300 other groups received similar “additional scrutiny.”
It was only Friday that the IRS came clean. Employees of a Cincinnati office flagged any non-profit application with the words “tea party” or “patriots,” and later broadened the search to groups aiming to educate the public about limited government or the Bill of Rights.
Yep, we did that and we’re very sorry.
I’m sure those who have run afoul of the IRS were glad to hear that an apology is all it takes to make the problem go away. Or they would have, but it was hard to say so from a prison cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Running the country is a political game. We all understand that. But certain agencies in our government must necessarily apply the law without political bias. The IRS is chief among them. We tolerate the taxman because we trust it to apply the law fairly across the board, without regard to politics or personal beliefs.
I highly doubt the accusations would have fallen on so many deaf media ears had George W. Bush’s IRS subjected anti-war groups for “additional scrutiny” in the run-up to the 2004 election.
Fortunately, even a few liberal voices have admitted this was a big deal, and a disastrous overreach, though it’s yet to be discovered how far up the scandal goes.
But things sure got bumpy in a hurry for President Obama, didn’t they?

David D. Goodwin is political editor of The Wetumpka Herald. Contact him at david.goodwin@thewetumpkaherald.com.

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