- - Thursday, December 4, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We all know that emails just don’t “disappear.”

Lois Lerner, former IRS Exempt Organizations director, and her Obama administration allies will now have to face that fact, as thousands of her “missing” emails have been found by the IRS inspector general.

Here’s what we know: Beginning in 2010, in the run up to the midterm congressional election, a number of Democratic officials denounced the Citizens United decision and political speech by conservative groups. As President Obama and other national Democrats attacked the political speech of these organizations as a “threat to our democracy,” the IRS began to systematically scrutinize the tax exempt applications filed by these conservative groups. This effort seems to have been spearheaded by Ms. Lerner, who made it her mission to “fix the problem” posed by Citizens United.

Hopefully, the newfound emails will shed more light on how she chose to “fix” the right to free political speech and who was a part of the “fix.” It is inconceivable that Ms. Lerner acted alone.

Fortunately, timing is everything.

With a Republican majority now in both the House and the Senate, the Obama administration is going to find it harder to stonewall the tough questions, especially about the IRS‘ targeting of conservatives.

The administration’s refusal to answer questions has mired the agency, which is supposed to be non-partisan, in suspicion and doubt.

Perhaps that is one major reason why the American people spoke out for change in leadership on election night. Republican gains in the Senate and the House proved that the public wants a new direction, new leadership and stronger accountability.

As a result, the IRS investigation is not over — not by a long shot.

Most notably, we need to know if Ms. Lerner was directed to institute the illegal targeting of conservative groups? And, if so, who directed her? If she wasn’t encouraged or ordered to target these groups, what management defects allowed this targeting to exist? And why was there a delay in notifying Congress about the missing emails, even though several congressional investigations were underway at the time?

Is there a direct link to the White House? That remains a very open question that hangs heavily over this entire scandal. We do know that, at the very least, the IRS was inappropriately receptive to attacking political opponents. This alone should give us pause and is more than enough reason to take a closer look at what happened. Congress needs to understand how this happened in order to take the necessary steps to ensure that Americans, no matter what their political beliefs, are never targeted by the IRS again.

Despite a great deal of effort investigating these matters by several congressional committees, it’s more than suspicious that the agency and its allies in the White House and Congress blocked access to full information.

Likewise, it is shocking that the abuse has not stopped. The IRS continues to try to target social welfare organizations through new proposed regulations. It is actively trying to codify targeting of political groups as a way to regulate their lawful free speech. I believe these regulations would be used against groups opposed to this president and his policies just as their targeting practices did.

As a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am working with Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake to stop these proposed regulations. We have introduced legislation that has the support of every Republican currently in the Senate. I am disappointed that no Democrat has joined our bill.

If all this isn’t enough to question the actions and motives of leaders at the IRS, we have also learned that some at the IRS receive performance awards and bonuses despite being delinquent in their own taxes. It’s unconscionable that the nation’s tax collector would award its own employees who are unable or unwilling to follow the rules they enforce on everyone else. This cannot stand.

Simply put, the more we find out, the more questions we have. We need answers. And once we get to the bottom of these scandals, we will enact policies to protect the American people from a power hungry and vindictive administration. Perhaps then we can have a real discussion about tax reform.

Comprehensive tax reform is the only real way to put this agency in check. We need to bring the laws and rules of federal taxes into the 21st century so our citizens can protect themselves from this kind of political targeting and scrutiny. We need to remove the fear and intimidation from the equation of dealing with the IRS. If we cut taxes and spending, we might even restore Americans’ trust in their government to rise to challenges of the day. We can protect the First Amendment and jump start our economy at the same time.

Pat Roberts is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Kansas.

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