Politics have no place at the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS’ abuse of power in targeting conservative organizations demands more than the outrage the president exhibited Monday or the apology the agency issued Friday.
What’s needed is a full accounting of the agency’s ideologically driven actions, and then full accountability for them. If that means more time devoted to congressional hearings – increasingly the venue for GOP opponents eager to undermine the president’s second term – so be it. The IRS invited such investigation and has fueled public distrust.
True, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, there are good questions about whether all of the groups enjoying the 501(c)(4) tax exemption live up to the requirement that they promote “social welfare,” or whether they are using that loophole to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money supporting candidates and a political agenda.
But the scrutiny should be broad, not triggered by ideology or keywords such as “tea party” or “patriot,” as the IRS now admits it was. As recently as January 2012, according to an appendix to a forthcoming inspector general’s report, a “Be on the Lookout” list used by a special IRS unit in Cincinnati referred to “political action-type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement” – language clearly aimed at groups on the ideological right.
Now, as Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Friday in calling for Senate Finance Committee hearings, “A mere apology will not be sufficient to ensure Kansans, and all Americans, will not be singled out and harassed by an agency of the federal government for their political beliefs.”
And as Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said Sunday on Fox News channel, “We should see across the board, members of Congress trying to find out what the facts are, and if those facts demonstrate wrongdoing, heads should roll.”
Last week, during a subcommittee meeting, Moran confronted Treasury Secretary Jack Lew about evidence that the IRS also has released Schedule B donor lists belonging to 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups to other outside groups.
At least President Obama set the right tone Monday in his comments on the IRS’ partisan-driven scrutiny. “I’ve got no patience for it,” he said. “I will not tolerate it.”
Nor should he, or any president of either political party. The unpopular agency’s job was hard enough. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to wonder whether they are under the IRS’ magnifying glass for their beliefs.