The Unethical Actions Of The IRS And Why We Shouldn’t Be Surprised

irs

This entire embarrassing episode of the IRS’ political intimidation and manipulation through false audits and stalling the certification of applications for the creation of non-profits, demonstrates the sad reality that political activism that’s grounded in extreme devotion (religious?) or allegiance to political ideology has replaced Christianity as America’s civil religion.

That the IRS (which is supposed to be apolitical) would purposely and specifically target groups and individuals who shared differing ideological and religious worldviews from their own- or the president’s- is an example of how far our culture has degenerated from a common civility. People could at one time, disagree without being disagreeable; now we’ve slouched toward a justified incivility where the ends- regardless of how wrong- always justifies the means (lying, character assassination  intimidation, public embarrassment, etc.).

Equally as disconcerting is the fact that the IRS employees who’re guilty of such actions- be it through direct knowledge and participation or being passively involved by not alerting authorities/bringing this to the public’s attention sooner, will walk away with little condemnation or punishment.  Or, as in Lois Lerner’s case, plead the 5th with no serious repercussion.

lois lerner

This lack of moral character and leadership that is sadly all too prevalent among many folks today is a product of the culture in which we created.  Our culture has for far too long, excused questionable ethics and the behavior that flows from it.  Rather than personalizing ethical morality, we’ve privatized it. Worse still, we’ve relativized it and condemned those who would judge it. Thus the lack of character displayed by many civic and religious leaders, teachers, parents and the children they raise shouldn’t shock us.  It’s the logical conclusion of the lack of shame that  a non-judgmental society creates.  We’ve set this pattern in motion and as a result, we have ourselves to blame.

The interesting thing is that we know how to rectify this glaring problem, but we may not have the scruples to say it, let alone initiate it.

As a side note, it would seem to me that all audits conducted by the IRS during the past several years have now been called into question.  Who’s to say that those who’ve been subjected to the anxiety and inconvenience that audits produce weren’t specifically targeted for religious, political or ideological reasons?  For example, if a person who examines DNA taints one test sample- intentionally or by accident, aren’t all test samples performed by that examiner then called into question?  It should apply here as well.

* Update. For purposes of clarification, when I say “civic religion,” I’m referring to religion or religious practices in a cultural sense, not something instituted by government, which should be recognized as implied within my statement. 

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5 thoughts on “The Unethical Actions Of The IRS And Why We Shouldn’t Be Surprised

  1. reframes May 24, 2013 / 12:43 pm

    What has been overlooked is that these are not “audits”. Groups are applying for 501c4 tax exempt status as “social welfare” organizations, which means they can do policy advocacy, but not campaign for/against specific candidates. The groups were sent questionnaires to establish if that was the case. The groups applying were both left and right.

    The purpose of many of the groups was clearly political, not policy in nature. Almost all were approved anyway. The real problem is that the IRS didn’t do it’s job and reject more groups,
    Is this a right wing conspiracy?

    America is NOT supposed to have a civic religion, Christian or any other.
    That’s unconstitutional.

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  2. derryckg May 24, 2013 / 1:32 pm

    Not exactly. The mistake is conflating those who suffered the inconvenience of audits for political donations with those folks who filed applications for the purpose of creating 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations.

    Frank VanderSloot is the most public example of someone who donated money to a Romney superPAC who was audited three times. Wayne Allyn Root is another. There are apparently many more who were personally audited for political contributions to Romney’s campaign or other conservative causes who’ve notified their Senators/Representatives. Also remember that those families who were attempting to adopt children were also subjected to unnecessary audits as well (child adoption credit). These are but two examples of the audits used as intimidation by the IRS.

    As to the groups who wanted to do “policy advocacy”… first both liberal and conservative groups applying weren’t treated the same and to suggest so is simply not honoring the truth.
    If both liberal and conservative groups were targeted and singled out equally this would have been brought to the public’s attention prior to the election- and the scandal wouldn’t have been seen as… targeting. It’s one of the reasons (not the main reason) why this scandal is- a scandal.

    Second, these applications (of conservative groups, or groups that had ‘tea party’ ‘patriot’ and other words in their name(s) flagged for extra scrutiny) were held up purposely because of what these groups intended to do and the message in which they intended to convey and disperse. Again, that’s manipulation and intimidation. Why would the Coalition for Life of Iowa be asked “‘Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers,’” as part of a questionnaire? That information is absolutely of no use to the IRS.

    “The real problem is that the IRS didn’t do it’s job and reject more groups,
    Is this a right wing conspiracy?”

    Reject more groups why? For what reasons? Based on what qualifications for rejection? As for the questioning of conspiracy… this has ceased being a conspiracy because of the the amount if information regarding the practice, which based on testimony, was common. It was considered a conspiracy last year when TEA party groups complained to no avail; now that the cat is out of the bag, so is the notion that this is merely a ‘conspiracy’.

    Lastly, your statement “America is NOT supposed to have a civic religion, Christian or any other.
    That’s unconstitutional,” is simply untrue. There is nothing in the constitution that claims America can’t have a civic/cultural religion. And maybe I should have been more clear. When I said ‘civic,’ the implication based upon the context of what I wrote, should be understood to mean “cultural.”

    That said, the First Amendment states that ” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Until and unless Congress creates and legalizes the establishing of a national religion (one opposed to all others), civic/cultural religion(s) aren’t unconstitutional. Especially considering the religious practices of the Founders who recognized that God was the center of morality.

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  3. reframes May 24, 2013 / 3:41 pm

    I’m sort of relying on the NY Times here (which you may think is liberal biased) but the 538 blog (the stats guy) pointed out that anecdotes about specific people (including VanderSloot) who were audited is not necessarily evidence of bias. http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/new-audit-allegations-show-flawed-statistical-thinking/ There will always be lots of Romney and Obama supporters audited. You would need to show a pattern of bias by comparison of the proportion of Romney vs Obama supporters before you can make any such claim.

    The Times reports that 18 of 40 groups applying (not being audited) for tax exempt status had “tea party” or the like in their names. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/us/politics/at-irs-unprepared-office-seemed-unclear-about-the-rules.html?pagewanted=2&ref=internalrevenueservice It doesn’t characterize the other groups. That’s less than half.

    There must be some way of distinguishing advocacy from politicking. Asking questions about activities and amounts of money spent on each is not evidence of persecution. It’s doing the job. it’s even more blurry, because 501c4’s as opposed to 3’s can do some politicking. Without examining detailed records who could tell if the proportion is legitimate?

    So unless you have evidence that tea party groups were more delayed than others, or more were rejected, (almost all of all persuasions were approved) the most likely explanation is the IRS was overwhelmed, not “targeting” or intimidating.

    Reject more groups? Absolutely. Because the big groups in particular (Karl Rove’s Crossroada and a liberal group -I forget which) were set up to campaign for/against specific candidates. The groups are supposed to do 51% non political activities.
    I doubt they were doing anything you or I would call social welfare.

    The big question then is, do you want to subsidize politicking by groups you don’t agree with by making them tax exempt, and letting them hide their donor lists? They are trying to make their speech free, by you and me paying for it.

    Civic Religion = Cultural. That’s pretty much true. You should be clearer.
    But It really bugs me when my conservative friends talk about the “Christian Principles of the Founders”. Most of the founders were really deists, and not Christian in any sense that most people now take that to mean. They went out of their way to ensure that no church dominated the state. But that’s another discussion.

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    • derryckg May 25, 2013 / 11:47 am

      Thanks for chiming in- it’s always good to engage in civil dialogue even though disagreements may characterize said dialogue.

      To begin, I do consider the NYT leftist (I don’t use the word liberal because most so-called liberals have changed their identifier to ‘progressive’ which is even further left than being a ‘liberal), but the Times themselves admit as much. The Times isn’t as progressively left as The Nation, Slate, Salon, Mother Jones, etc

      “So unless you have evidence that tea party groups were more delayed than others, or more were rejected, (almost all of all persuasions were approved) the most likely explanation is the IRS was overwhelmed, not “targeting” or intimidating.”

      Here’s the thing and in my opinion, the central issue which contains the evidence you requested- Lois Lerner admitted that the IRS engaged in excessive scrutiny and singling out of conservative groups and or individuals. She allowed a purposely prepared and planted question during a Q&A session with the American Bar Association Conference to “admit” to what she knew the IRS to be doing in an attempt to get ahead of the release of the IG report. Steven Miller admitted as much and apologized for it in his testimony before the House Committee. So did Doug Shulman. We know that IRS officials in Washington DC were in on the plan as well. We know that senior WH officials knew of what was going on. IMO, if the IRS weren’t singling out conservative groups to delay their approval or outright denying applications for these non-profits then why admit as much?

      Also, during the time in which these groups where being scrutinized, upwards of 75 groups were selected for extra attention including being asked who the potential donors were (which is none of the IRS’ business as we know). three hundred groups were affected by this procedure, meaning that these conservative groups represented a quarter of those flagged. As of right now, the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) is representing roughly 30 tea party organizations affected. So the numbers claimed by the Times are off and represents a minimized time period in which this process was taking place.

      Now, I don’t doubt that so-called liberal (progressive) applications for non-profit status were also denied or delayed, but they weren’t specifically targeted. They weren’t on the BOLO lists that the IRS admits existed. Who knows why these progressive applications were delayed or denied, but their denials and delays weren’t the result of extra scrutiny, or the IRS would have admitted as much.

      Check this out if you haven’t already- http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2013reports/201310053fr.html#timeline

      “The big question then is, do you want to subsidize politicking by groups you don’t agree with by making them tax exempt, and letting them hide their donor lists? They are trying to make their speech free, by you and me paying for it.”

      Lol. I pay for that all the time through taxation.

      But if people want to donate to groups in which they share a common cause or ideology, so be it, just as I should be able to do without the possibility of my donations, which I may not make public, becoming public and then used as a form of intimidation. This was done to folks who donated to CA’s prop 8 campaign. Their donations were made public and the people and organizations who donated were targeted for boycotts, verbal reprisals and such.

      But you disagree with that so what would be an alternative that wouldn’t compromise free speech and expression?

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  4. reframes May 25, 2013 / 1:55 pm

    NYTimes – agreed. They are the voice of the rich left.

    Evidence – Seems like the BOLO aimed at Tea Parties. I haven’t paid that much attention to the timeline, but my sense is that they (the IRS higher-ups) noticed something wrong and called in the IG. (I’ll follow your link later)

    If this were really a Nixon-style top down conspiracy, there would be a lot more stonewalling.
    The show trial would be a Congressional committee grilling Karl Rove (and the head of Priorities-USA) on how they justified saying that any of their organizations do “social welfare.” That, and not some bureaucrats in in Ohio sending out questionnaires.

    In the end almost all groups got approved for “social welfare” status. That’s the real outrage. The IRS didn’t do it’s job.

    What to do? My wife and I have worked for, and/or run, REAL 501c3 social service organizations our whole lives. One part of me says do away with the 501c4 category entirely, since it seems so easy to game. There is a legitimate place for policy advocacy groups.
    Tax exemption and anonymous donations are separate issues, so you could allow anonymity, but have the groups pay taxes on their receipts. You could allow tax exemption but no anonymity.
    On second thought: I think the Citizen’s United issue has warped political discourse so much that I say put your mouth (and name) where your money is.

    Karl Rove is trying to intimidate me. Let’s level the playing field.

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