IRS targeted Tea Party, violating Constitution

Words like “Patriot,” “Tea Party” and “9/12” caused the IRS to question their possible tax-exempt status. Photo: The IRS is at the center of the latest political firestorm AP photo

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2013 — What the heck was the IRS thinking, much less doing, by going after conservative groups like the Tea Party? It was outrageous, incompetent, deplorable, and a clear violation of the Constitution.

That’s what the Bill of Rights is for: to free spech as long as it is not libelous or yelling “Fire!” in a theater. And conservative values, like it or not, are protected speech.

But starting back in 2011, the IRS breeched the public trust when it flagged groups with the word “Tea Party,” “Patriot” and “9/12 project” in their titles for further scrutiny, according to the Treasury Inspector General’s investigation, which is expected to be released today.

The IRS also scrutinized certain phrasing in these groups’ identification or goals, such as: “making America a better place to live” or “how the country is being run,” “limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, or social economic reform/movement.”

New Jersey Tea Partiers Photo:AP/Mel Evans

While some of us may not like the Right Wing groups or their agendas, to target them for their beliefs is an abuse of power by the government and truly repugnant.

The IRS is supposed to be apolitical, making all our lives miserable at tax time, not singling out one group for its views. It is truly Nixonian in its chutzpah.

These conservative groups were seeking 501(c)4 status, seeing themselves as meeting the criteria of  “organizations that promote social welfare should primarily promote the common good and general welfare of the people of the community as a whole.”

Groups seek tax-exempt status under tax law 501(c)4 because they then do not have to identify their donors and they can spend their funds on ads and commercials about issues dear to their collective heart. However, they may not endorse specific candidates or parties. The number of groups submitting applications for such status jumped from 1,500 to in 2010 to 3,400 in 2012 after the Supreme Court unleashed its “Citizen United” ruling on us, allowing a riptide of political money to flood the system.

And, yes, that means groups from big Labor to charities to the Tea Party can indulge indirectly in political activities unless they are advocating for a candidate or a specific political party. To do that, they must have PAC, which is then a separate entity. Most adhere to this model and do not deserve the harassment they suffered at the hands of the IRS.

As Ezra Klein so wisely pointed out in his column, if the IRS wanted to put suspect groups under the microscope for such violations, then it should have been going after such conservative groups as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS or the Heritage Action Fund or the more liberal groups like MoveOn.org or Priorities USA, all of which try to blatantly influence American politics and elections.

Instead, it appears, the IRS went after the low-hanging fruit of the Tea Party. The IRS has since issued an apology, saying it was the fault of its Cincinnati office. But was it only one bad apple? And is an apology enough?

Plus the White House’s lame explanation on Friday via Press Secretary Jay Carney doesn’t cut it either. Perhaps at today’s press conference with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama will address the issue head-on.

Meanwhile, doesn’t there need to be a thorough IRS housecleaning of such behavior and key people terminated? Isn’t there a need for new rules for what groups are subject to such scrutiny? If such a plan had been in effect instead of hot button words or phrases, maybe that would not have happened. Just think how innocuous Crossroads or Priorities USA sound, allowing them to escape the IRS microscope.

If the IRS wants to tighten up, here are three areas they could lock their eyeballs on: 1) bogus social welfare organizations, whose ads do cross the line; 2) fat cat tax dodgers and their loophole corporations; and 3) churches that blend politics and piety in the pulpit.

Once the Inspector General’s full report is released, expect the fur to fly and heads to roll and Congressional committees to multiply. The political fallout has just begun.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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