IRS abuses: It did not start with the Tea Party
Those who think that the IRS’s targeting of political organizations is a new phenomenon should read James Bovard’s “The Sordid History of IRS Political Abuse.” Bovard goes through the IRS’s sordid history of targeting political opponents of the current administration, a history that dates backs to the agency’s founding:
The IRS has a long history of trying to ruin the political careers of its critics. In 1925, Internal Revenue Commissioner David Blair personally delivered a demand for $10 million in back taxes to Michigan’s Republican Sen. James Couzens — who had launched an investigation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue — as he stepped out of the Senate chamber. Couzens fought the case, and eventually proved that he had actually overpaid his taxes by roughly $1 million. But the precedent of using threats to deflect oversight was firmly established.
FDR and JFK both ordered the IRS to target their political opponents. One of the articles of impeachment drawn up against President Richard Nixon dealt with his use of the IRS to harass his political enemies:
President Franklin Roosevelt used the IRS to harass newspaper publishers, including William Randolph Hearst and Moses Annenberg (publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer). He also dropped the IRS hammer on political rivals such as Huey Long and Father Coughlin, and prominent Republicans like former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. Perhaps Roosevelt’s most pernicious tax skullduggery occurred in 1944 when he spiked an IRS audit of massive illegal campaign contributions from a government contractor to Texas Rep. Lyndon Johnson. Johnson’s career would likely have been destroyed if Texans had learned of his dirty dealing. Instead, Johnson survived, and scores of thousands of Americans and more than a million Vietnamese died as a result.
….John F. Kennedy raised the political exploitation of the IRS to an art form. Shortly after capturing the presidency, he denounced “the discordant voices of extremism” and, in a passage that could have been lifted from Obama’s recent Ohio State University commencement speech, derided people “who would sow the seeds of doubt and hate” and make Americans distrust their leaders.
….After Richard Nixon took office, his administration quickly created a Special Services Staff (SSS) to mastermind “all IRS activities involving ideological, militant, subversive, radical, and similar type organizations.” More than 10,000 groups and individuals were targeted because of their political activism or slant between 1969 and 1973, including the John Birch Society and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling. The IRS was also given a list of Nixon’s official enemies to, in the words of White House counsel John Dean, “use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Contributors to the Democratic Party were also high on Nixon’s target list.
Nixon’s administration vastly expanded a secret computer database — the “Intelligence Gathering and Retrieval System” the IRS began in 1963 — to sweep up information on individual Americans and groups. By 1975 the IRS had stockpiled data on almost half a million persons and groups; the program was abolished after its existence became known outside of official circles.
The use of the IRS as a political tool continued during the Clinton administration, when numerous Clinton critics where targeted with audits. Members of Congress and their staffers even suggested targets to the IRS:
In the following decades the IRS regularly sparked outrage by abusing innocent taxpayers, but there was scant controversy about the agency’s politicization until Bill Clinton took office. In 1995 the White House and the Democratic National Committee produced a 331-page report, “Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce,” that attacked magazines, think tanks, and other entities and individuals who had criticized Clinton. In subsequent years many organizations that were mentioned in the White House report were hit by IRS audits. More than 20 conservative organizations — including the Heritage Foundation and the American Spectator — and almost a dozen high-profile Clinton critics were audited.
The Landmark Legal Foundation sued the IRS after being audited. Its brief quoted an IRS official who claimed at a meeting that documents revealing the names of congressmen and their staffers who had requested audits were being or had been shredded. The official went on to recommend tactics for masking such requests in the future. The IRS claimed that it could not find 114 key files relating to possible political manipulation of audits of tax-exempt organizations. The Clinton administration fought vociferously to prevent Americans from learning how it had abused IRS powers. As a Wall Street Journal editorial noted, “The IRS position is incredible. It says letters from politicians asking that someone be audited are confidential tax-return information.”
Bipartisan tax bullying
In perhaps the least recognized media bombshell of the Clinton era, the Associated Press reported in late 1999 that “officials in the Democratic White House and members of both parties in Congress have prompted hundreds of audits of political opponents in the 1990s,” including “personal demands for audits from members of Congress.” Audit requests from congressmen were marked “expedited” or “hot politically,” and IRS officials were obliged to respond within 15 days. The AP noted, “The IRS computer tracking system in Washington denotes the name of a politician who refers a matter. The original letter from the White House or lawmaker is forwarded to the case agent.” Permitting congressmen to secretly and effortlessly sic G-men on whomever they pleased epitomized official Washington’s contempt for average Americans and fair play. But because the abuse was bipartisan, it evinced little or no interest on Capitol Hill.
The IRS’s history of abusing political opponents and critics shows that the only long-term solution is to reduce this agency’s power by, as Campaign for Liberty Chairman Ron Paul advocated throughout his career, repealing the Sixteenth Amendment and ending the income tax.
It also important that groups like Campaign for Liberty fighting back against IRS attempts to muzzle or weaken our efforts. This is why we are fighting the IRS’s attempt to force us to turn over information regarding some of our donors.