By Dave Stancliff/For The Times-Standard
There’s good reason why most Americans don’t trust the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Even though we have laws forbidding the use of the IRS as a political tool, it has been the plaything of politicians since it’s inception.
The most recent scandal involving the IRS concerns targeting conservative groups with Tea Party or Patriot in their names for audits during the last election. This was just a continuation of a tradition of corruption by the agency.
I realize why some Republican lawmakers call for new legislation to stop such abuse of power, but frankly they’re spinning their wheels. We already have laws on the books that forbid such activities. Of course, these laws are routinely ignored by members of Congress and the administration.
A more detailed look at the history of the IRS by author David Burnham reveals how the agency was misused by former administrations. Burnham’s book, “A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power (1990) is recommended reading on the topic.
The IRS has been used to intimidate congressional critics since 1925, when IRS Commissioner David Blair personally demanded $10 million in back taxes from Michigan's Republican Sen. James Couzens, who had launched an investigation of the IRS as he stepped out of the Senate chamber.
You might be surprised to know which presidents used the IRS to forward their agendas. Take President Franklin Roosevelt. He used the IRS to harass newspaper publishers opposed to the New Deal, including William Randolph Hearst and Moses Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
He also used the IRS to take on political enemies such as the populist firebrand Huey Long, radio agitator Father Coughlin, and former Republican Treasure Secretary Andrew Mellon.
Perhaps the most under-handed thing President Roosevelt did occurred in 1944. He simply spiked an IRS audit of illegal campaign contributions made by a government contractor to Congressman Lyndon Johnson. It’s not a stretch to say he saved Johnson’s political career, allowing him to become president later.
Contrary to his near-saintly image, President John F. Kennedy really set the bar for exploiting the IRS. In his first 100 days he denounced the “discordant voices of extremism” and derided people who distrust their leaders.
He signaled at a news conference that he expected the IRS to be vigilant in policing the tax-exempt status of questionable (read: conservative) organizations. Within a few days of Kennedy's remarks, the IRS launched the Ideological Organizations Audit Project.
The targets were all right-leaning groups, including the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Economic Education.
Kennedy also used the IRS to strong-arm companies into complying with "voluntary" price controls. Steel executives who defied the administration were singled out for audits.
I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t heard about Richard M. Nixon’s abuse of power. It started right after he took office. He created a Special Services Staff to target activities involving ideological, militant, subversive, and radical organizations.
It was quite a hit list with more than 10,000 individuals and groups selected because of their political activism or slant between 1969 and 1973, including Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling (a left-wing critic of the Vietnam War) and the far-right John Birch Society.
Tricky Dickey’s enemies were listed for the IRS to deal with. In the words of White House counsel John Dean, "Use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies."
Nixon’s presidency was already circling the drain when his IRS abuses came up during congressional hearings in 1973 and 1974. Those hearings profoundly weakened him during the uproar after the Watergate hotel break-in. As a result, Congress enacted legislation to severely restrict political contacts between the White House and the IRS.
In 1995, Bill Clinton’s administration and the Democratic National Committee produced a 331-page report entitled, “Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce” that attacked magazines, think tanks, and other entities and individuals who criticized President Clinton.
His administration went after 20 conservative organizations and 11 individual high-profile Clinton accusers, such as Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers.
The ironic thing to me is the IRS went after small conservative groups like the Tea Party during this last election while ignoring the much larger big-budget organizations on the left and the right that were far more influential. They were all organized under a section of the tax code that allows them to hide their donors.
What’s wrong with that picture?
As It Stands, I don’t see anything being done about the IRS’s abuse of power by a collection of Congressmen and an administration that are just as corrupt!