Much of what Congress is investigating – and has been investigating for over three years -- is the way the IRS investigated the quasi-political 501c(4) organizations that proliferated after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. Citizens United gave these organizations new “free speech” rights, including the right to use money from corporate donors to talk about specific candidates on the eve of an election. In our money drenched campaign finance system, Members of Congress, among other elected officials, depend upon the support of these organizations to get reelected.
Government agencies scrutinizing these organizations predictably incur the wrath of Congress.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) tried to enforce the election law so these organizations could not do too much of the work of political campaigns. But the Supreme Court forced the FEC to back off with its decision in Citizens United.
Section 501c4 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that some of these organizations are tax exempt. All of us would like to be tax exempt and have our businesses be tax exempt, but the law makes it clear who pays taxes and who does not. Organizations that don’t pay taxes when they should pay taxes are not taxpayers. They are law breakers.
The IRS is charged with making sure 501c4 organizations do not engage in activities inconsistent with their tax exempt status. Several years ago, the IRS did a very poor job of discharging these duties (email searches conducted by IRS staff focused on “Tea Party” and similar groups without sufficient evidence of corresponding efforts to pursue tax abuse by groups on the left).
The IRS employees who engaged in this inappropriate conduct are gone, as are many of the people who supervised them. The IRS has a new Commissioner. The IRS inspector general has investigated what happened and has issued a report. Congress has investigated for three years.
And the IRS still has a job to do, which is to make sure that tax exempt organizations – left right, center and apolitical -- do what the law requires them to do in order to stay tax exempt. Politicians, including Members of Congress, may not like the IRS giving too much scrutiny to organizations that help their political campaigns. But it is not appropriate for Congress to use its own investigatory powers to intimidate the IRS. And the fact that the IRS did a very bad job three to five years ago does not justify a protracted war against the IRS, and its current Commissioner, while they are trying to enforce the law.
I summarize my latest objections to the direction of this investigation – including a laughable effort to take away the IRS Commissioner’s pension -- in my letter to Congress discussed here:
Some have asked if I am still a Republican. Of course I am. But I support candidates who make government more efficient, cut taxes and streamline regulation, not those who act like bullies on a middle school playground. The House threatening to take away the IRS Commissioner’s pension is yet one more example of bad behavior.
This is in addition to costly government shut downs over budget bills, the Senate refusing to convene long overdue Supreme Court confirmation hearings for a very moderate nominee, and a presidential candidate’s foul mouthed insults at Muslims and Mexicans. Middle school students who behave badly go to the principal’s office (admittedly that means something very different depending upon whether one is in Texas or Minnesota). Politicians who behave that way face the consequences in November (voter reaction will be different depending on the state, but overall it will not be good).
Lawyers – including lawyers conducting politically motivated “investigations” for Congressional committees -- helped create this mess. They have a responsibility to help clean it up and to urge their bosses to do the same.