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M.D. Harmon: The Tax Man Cometh

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

“The bottom line is we’re not broke, there’s plenty of money, it’s just the government doesn’t have it. The government has a right, the government and the people of the United States have a right, to run the programs of the United States. Health, welfare, housing – all these things.”

— U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. 

We are sometimes tempted to think that people on the left don’t really believe everything they say about the sources and ownership of wealth, but then a progressive lets the mask slip a little bit and their real ideology shines through.

Such is the case with the über-liberal Rep. Ellison, who has made it known that the real problem with a government that has big plans for spending programs is simply that it doesn’t have access to all the money it needs.

But to people like him, that’s not really a problem: The government may not have the money, but you do. And all that’s needed is for you to give it to them.

Oh, sorry, did I say “give”? That was a mistake. From the government’s point of view, it has a “right” — Ellison’s own word — to your income, and therefore it is perfectly entitled not to ask you for it, but to demand it and take it by force.

WHICH IS WHY the current fuss over the politicization of the Internal Revenue Service is not a “phony scandal,” as President Obama’s self-serving excuse-making would have it, but a very real one.

The IRS has all the guns and the subpoenas and the prosecutors and the jails it needs to take your money.

Its power is so great — it can confiscate your money without a court hearing, remember — that it can easily be misused, and if long-standing testimony from the Taxpayer Advocate’s Office is to be believed, the IRS plays fast and loose with its power on a regular basis even when it purportedly operates within the law and the intent of Congress.

When it starts operating outside of that, as it has clearly begun to do, (very likely on the behalf of partisan political authorities), it becomes a devouring monster eating away at the heart of freedom.

The basic outlines of the IRS campaign against pro-life and Tea Party groups seeking 501(c)(4) status, something they were eligible for if more than half of their activities were educational and not intended to influence elections directly, are familiar enough not to need much explanation.

BRIEFLY, SUCH GROUPS’ applications were set aside for extensive extra questioning (and thus delays) by the section of the IRS that judged qualifications for this part of the tax code.

That section was headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, leading some to blame the practice on “a few low-level workers in Cincinnati,” without noting that was where all such applications were processed. And as a major subsection of the agency, its policies were closely tied to direction from Washington.

As one IRS employee told a congressional committee, it would be “impossible” for rogue workers to create such conditions: “As an agent we are controlled by many, many people. So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen.”

Administration comments that blamed them, the agent said, were false: “I still hear people saying we were low-level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C. So, take it for what it is. They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.”

But that misdirection was only the beginning of the spin coming from the IRS’ defenders and administration apologists.

It soon became apparent that the delays, which quickly became intrusive (one religious pro-life group was asked about the content of its prayer meetings), had the effect (intentional or not, and quite possibly the former) of making it impossible for Tea Party groups to become active prior to the 2012 election.

Thus, the widespread belief that the Tea Party “lost influence” after the election of 2010 may well have been an intentional result of an IRS campaign against its members as they tried to organize under the tax code.

SECOND, NEW REVELATIONS from congressional investigators show that defenses raised by administration apologists such as Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., that “progressive” and “liberal” groups’ applications also were set aside for extra scrutiny, are false.

The progressive groups’ applications may have been mentioned in memos that also included conservative groups, but the numbers of left-wing groups surveyed were a small fraction of the total set aside, and no applications from such groups were forwarded to higher levels for additional attention, while scores of conservative groups’ applications received such “special handling.”

Of all such applications, National Public Radio reported, conservative groups received three times the number of questions and, while all groups with “progressive” in their names were ultimately approved, only 46 percent of conservative groups reached approval status. “Others are still waiting for an answer or gave up,” NPR reported.

The totals show that 104 conservative groups were scrutinized compared to just seven progressive groups; 54 percent of conservative groups were rejected (to zero progressive groups) and 56 remained in limbo or gave up (again, with zero leftist groups in that category).

A USA Today analysis said that dozens of liberal applicants were approved over a 27-month period, while not one Tea Party applicant was given the green light.

Indeed, testimony in Congress has said such applications were forwarded not just to IRS leaders, but to one of two political appointees at the top of the IRS hierarchy. That person had a personal meeting in the White House just before the special scrutiny began, an audience that even IRS commissioners seldom receive.

FINALLY, THE NAME of the IRS manager who pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked by House investigators about her supervision of the Cincinnati unit has surfaced again in a new context that drags in yet another federal agency, the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly A. Strassel reported Aug. 2 that Lois Lerner, who had once worked at the FEC’s general counsel’s office, was asked by FEC attorneys for tax information about a 501(c)(4) conservative group, the American Independence Project (AIP).

This was flawed in two ways: Not only was Lerner not empowered to order IRS attorneys to give AIP’s information to the FEC (which she did), but the FEC staff is not empowered to initiate investigations without the approval of the agency’s commissioners.

That’s because the board of commissioners, comprised of political appointees, is balanced in order to prevent a temporary political majority from conducting probes that would be spurred by partisan motives.

And most suspicious of all, the AIP probe was begun on the basis of a complaint from an Obama campaign attorney upset that AIP was running advertisements critical of his boss.

(FEC staffers also engaged in other outside-the-law activities, maintaining their own links with Obama’s Justice Department and withholding evidence that favored conservative groups, a Republican FEC commissioner, Don McGahn, said last week.)

As Strassel concluded, “Democrats are increasingly desperate to suggest that the IRS scandal was the work of a few rogue agents. With the stink spreading to new parts of the federal government, that’s getting harder to do.”

YES, IT IS. BUT WHILE the details are vital, it’s even more important not to lose sight of the main point: If an agency with the power of the IRS can be politicized, the confidence Americans have in the fairness of our tax system will suffer great damage — with consequences that could reverberate for decades.

That would be a “spreading stink” that would penetrate everyone’s nasal passages.

As 35-year IRS veteran Bruce Bialosky wrote Aug. 6 on Townhall.com, a conservative website, “One would think that any American with a brain would be concerned that the tax-collecting agency of the United States was operating in an abusive manner. One would think everyone would view charges of abuse by the IRS as something of the highest level of concern regarding governmental abuse that could happen at any time to any citizen.”

One would think that, indeed. Unless, of course, that one were The One.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com