What on earth is going on with the Internal Revenue Service?
I’m sure many thought the same thing last year, when it was first revealed that the IRS had targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. More specifically, political organizations associated with the phrase “Tea Party” received extensive scrutiny.
It looks like it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
It was just revealed that the former IRS director of the Exempt Organizations Unit, Lois Lerner, the main player in this growing scandal, reportedly called American conservatives some, shall we say, rather unenlightening things. Words such as “crazies” and worse were found in her official IRS email account.
Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who turned up these notable little nuggets, said this showed Ms. Lerner had a “deep animus toward conservatives.” He went on to say, “In light of this new information, I hope [the Department of Justice] will aggressively pursue this case and finally appoint a special counsel, so the full truth can be revealed and justice is served.”
For the record, Ms. Lerner claims her computer could have been “simply hacked because my password was too simple.” The Washington Post also reported these emails may have been sent to her husband, Michael Miles. (According to The Daily Caller, Mr. Miles’ law firm “hosted an organizing meeting at its Atlanta office for people interested in helping with voter registration for the Obama re-election campaign.”)
You can be the judge, jury and executioner of this particular defense.
No one is obviously suggesting, or has ever suggested, that Ms. Lerner had to love or admire conservatives to work properly at her old job. This is a democracy, and she has the freedom to support any political party, politician or idea.
Yet it’s hard to believe that anyone could have masked this type of resentment against some or all U.S. conservatives for so long. If Ms. Lerner did write these emails, her point of view seems virtually impossible to hide.
That’s why any evidence of conservative groups, including Tea Party activists, being targeted by the IRS during Ms. Lerner’s tenure should have sent up dozens of red flags to her fellow staffers. I can’t personally believe that other employees weren’t aware of this scandal in some way, shape or form. Why didn’t someone say something, or privately report this incident to a direct superior?
In a world chock full of potential whistleblowers, this matter could have been avoided or stopped. The fact that it wasn’t makes it hard to not conclude that the rot in the IRS is vast and complex.
America’s revenue service, therefore, needs to be completely reformed from the top down to prevent further examples of political profiling.
Here are three ways to get the ball rolling.
First, the IRS must be completely cleaned out. Any politically partisan staffers, or those with spouses who have engaged in any sort of political activity (past or present), need to be weeded out. While it’s hard to say how many individuals would fall under this category, it would ensure that this organization would no longer be involved in potentially nefarious activity.
Second, the historic link between the IRS and White House must be broken. In Burton W. Folsom Jr.’s 2008 book, “New Deal or Raw Deal?” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son, Elliott, is quoted as saying, “My father may have been the originator of the concept of employing the IRS as a weapon of political retribution.” If this is true, the IRS could always be used as a weapon against political enemies. The Obama White House, which claims to have had no knowledge of the Lerner affair, should establish a clean break between politics and the taxman.
Third, penalties for IRS staffers who participate in this sort of political sabotage must be stiff. This could include a huge fine, permanent criminal record and an extensive prison sentence. When employees realize that targeting a political party or movement could jeopardize their futures, they won’t get involved so fast.
To be clear, I’m not taking this position because the targets were conservatives or the Tea Party.
If the IRS had targeted Democrats or liberal groups in the same fashion, I would have condemned it. This is supposed to be a neutral organization within the federal government that deals with one thing: income taxes. Targeting individuals and groups on either the political right or political left is wrong, period.
Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.