The IRS scandal of allegedly targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny may just be the tip of the iceberg. Unanswered questions abound about the powerful agency's involvement in Obamacare and partisan politics.
Using the IRS as a presidential pit bull is a fine old bipartisan tradition going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration and refined by Richard Nixon.
As we wait for what is sure to be the Summer of Endless Congressional Hearings, to be followed by the Winter of the Independent Special Prosecutor, let's have a look at some of the IRS' most notorious shenanigans – old and new.
IRS: Live Long and Don't Prosper
As questionable as William Shatner's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was in the annals of motion pictures, the IRS version was a lot worse.
The self-proclaimed "tax-themed parody" featured weedy-looking IRS employees as putative Star Trek characters, prattling on about enforcing order over chaos and zapping extra-terrestrial tax shelters.
The video was embarrassingly bad. The IRS didn't say how much it cost to produce, but the IRS Inspector General estimated that staff time cost $3,100 and the set cost $2,400.
Setting aside the dollar cost of the thing, the cost to national dignity was incalculable. Come on! The Chinese are watching!
And don't even get me started on the production quality. The Z-grade schlock-fest freely mixed the Original Series with Next Generation- era costumes and sets, for Spock's sake! That glaring error alone makes this video a phaser-able offense in this Trekkie's book. KHAAAAAAAN!
So Many Conferences, So Much Money
For some reason, it's important for bureaucrats to travel in style and comfort… something about projecting the power and prestige of the agency, if I had to guess.
The IRS is no different. It seems that the IRS has blown – no other word for it, really – close to $50 million in taxpayer money on travel, speakers, perks, and hotels for some 225 conferences over the past two years.
As reported by The Washington Post, some "highlights" include:
- A conference speaker earning $27,000, plus $2,500 for a first class plane ticket to speak at an IRS event.
- 2,609 IRS managers heading to Anaheim for a three-day "Leading into the Future" conference. Perks included free cocktails, and swag like engraved pens and Los Angeles Angels tickets.
Nice work, if you can get it. And if you can get it, tell me how?
"Chicago Politics" Writ Large
This IRS scandal is still unfolding, but it seems as though the IRS was used to beat up on individuals and groups who, shall we say, take a different political view than the White House.
It's still unclear what, if any, role the president may have played in this, but reports have surfaced that the IRS singled out conservative groups who applied for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.
These groups, especially those with "tea party" or "patriot" in their applications, were then given extra scrutiny.
Congress is currently making a great deal of hay out of these allegations, and has been giving IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner quite a grilling on the Hill. If the allegations are true, then House Speaker John Boehner says this reflects "some of the most shameful abuses of government powers."
IRS: Infernal Revenue Service
Two words: Richard Nixon.
Richard Nixon is (so far) the only president in American history to have actually been charged with using the IRS as political muscle. He flat-out ordered them to bedevil those on his infamous "Enemies List." It even appears in the Articles of Impeachment from 1974.
RESOLVED, That Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanours…
Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States…
He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to… cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.
President Dwight Eisenhower used the IRS to target the John Birch Society. The Society was engaged in some pretty far out conspiracy theorizing, including throwing around accusations that President Eisenhower was a secret Communist.
How that got any traction at all is beyond me. Rock-ribbed Ike is precisely the last guy I'd suspect of being a Red.
President John F. Kennedy initiated the "Ideological Organizations Project," which had the IRS look through the books of a multitude of right-wing organizations. After Kennedy was supposedly assassinated by (pick one) La Cosa Nostra, the CIA, Fidel Castro, J. Edgar Hoover, the Supreme Soviet, and Marilyn Monroe's dad, President Johnson happily took up the torch, expanding the IRS investigations.
Speaking of J. Edgar Hoover, he goes to show you that you don't even need to be a president to sic the taxman on your enemies. Hoover had all the power and clout of a Pharaoh, and he used it to crush any and all who opposed him.
Even as conservative commentator William F. Buckley bemoaned the IRS and the "liberal dictatorship," Hoover's FBI had the IRS target Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Students for a Democratic Society – all fairly liberal organizations. This was the genesis of the notorious COINTELPRO, a sinister – and thoroughly un-Constitutional – nationwide program of surveillance, provocation, and interference with groups that American law enforcement judged – all by themselves – to be subversive.
IRS Scandal: More of the Same
We probably shouldn't expect too much to come out of these latest revelations and allegations concerning the IRS. After all, it's clear that we've been here before.
Will this lead to real change in the way the IRS conducts its business, or acts as Washington's hatchet man? Who can say?
But I'm not holding my breath. You probably shouldn't either. There's going to be a shortage of breathable oxygen this summer, as windbags of all political stripes hoot and holler about the same old, same old at the IRS.
- Money Morning:
Will the IRS Scandal Rock the Markets?
New IRS Scandal Echoes a Long History of Political Harrassment
- The Washington Post:
Audit details lavish spending at IRS conference
IRS Star Trek Parody