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Katy Burns

Katy Burns: The IRS, then and now

Among the manifold sins of Richard Nixon 40 years ago was a blatant attempt to use the IRS, then more directly under presidential control, to punish the 37th president’s many enemies and to reward a few of his friends.

For instance, not only did he demand access to the files of his political opponents – “How come we haven’t pulled [George] McGovern’s file on his income tax?” he asked about his Democratic election opponent – as he discussed combing his foes’ files for ammunition.

He also actively pushed for IRS audits of those he didn’t like and actually stopped a few scheduled for people he liked, such as – honest! – actor John Wayne.

And he personally threatened to fire Treasury Secretary George Shultz should Shultz try to block Nixon’s access to the highly confidential files.

Since that time there have been numerous controls established to shield the IRS from such political interference, and any president with even a smattering of historical knowledge knows that any attempt to meddle with the IRS would be political suicide.

Fast forward to today’s contretemps, which by the way occurred under the ultimate direction of an IRS commissioner appointed by President George W. Bush. What the IRS – or rather a few relatively low-level employees – is accused of is using improper criteria to screen certain political organizations applying for status as tax exempt “social welfare” organizations under IRC section 501(c)(4). As such, not only would they be exempt from paying taxes but they could keep their lists of donors confidential.

Normal political organizations do have to disclose their donors.

These organizations are asking for a privilege. The IRS is required by law to see if they are eligible.

To the extent that IRS inquiries were unduly burdensome or protracted there should be consequences for those who conceived and imposed the criteria.

But the real scandal is that so many clearly hyper-partisan political organizations – including massive entities like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS (on the right) and Bill Burton’s Priorities USA (on the left) were permitted to parade as “social welfare” organizations and get off tax free with their secret donors even as they spent many, many millions advertising in last year’s presidential and congressional campaigns.

And the real scandal is also that the Treasury Department and the Congress – which after all is ultimately responsible for the existence of such organizations – are too cowed or too tied to their donors in the case of the Congress – to draft appropriate and understandable rules that IRS employees can follow to comply with the law.

(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

Legacy Comments3

Two wrongs do not make a right. Let's not forget that Jeanne Shaheen was one in Congress who pushed for the investigation of these groups. Where is the outrage from the Monitor, where is the coverage of this. They found every reason to excoriate Ayotte for something as simple as a principled vote. Yet, the can't even find the intellectual honesty to mention Shaheen's involvement. But that is neither here nor there. The fact that Burns would use Alinsky like tactics to protect this imperial president is not surprising from a dyed in the wool progressive. Her intent is to convince low information voters that everyone should just look the other way and go along.

Two posts today from KB. If we are going to highlight Rove's Crossroads, a better comparison on the left would be Soros's Move On.Org. And we can also add Organizing For Action. Now you cannot it have both ways KB. Did these low level employees go rogue and act on their own, or where the rules too hard for them to understand? That seems to be the defense here. Yeah they acted wrong, but hey they cannot figure out the criteria, or understand the rules, so lets create a system that only kicks out conservative groups to put through the wringer. Thanks, also for reminding us how Nixon got McGovern's tax info. Kind of similar to how this adminstration got Romney's tax info.

Katy said "What the IRS – or rather a few relatively low-level employees – is accused of is using improper criteria to screen certain political organizations applying for status as tax exempt “social welfare” organizations under IRC section 501(c)(4)." That is incorrect by omission. Thats not all they are accused of. Hopefully, we will find out if they indeed did target campaign donors.

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