Any One of Us
Any One of Us
Back in the bad old days of the Obama administration, I wrote about the IRS targeting conservative groups. Many writers and commentators did the same. The behavior inside the IRS was scandalous, and to add insult to injury, it was funded by our tax dollars. Let’s go back about 10 years, take a look, and then get an update.
Around 2010, many conservative groups such as the Tea Party formed. They expressed a frustration with reckless government spending and deficits, implemented by the Obama administration. Another example was a group called True the Vote, located in Houston. They aimed to ensure the integrity of the ballot box. Hundreds of like-minded conservative groups filed as nonprofits with the federal government, the IRS. That is where the problems started.
In the Obama administration, the IRS slow rolled these applications, which meant the organizations could not begin normal operations. The IRS used its considerable powers to bully Obama’s political opponents, then covered up their actions, with the help of an indifferent White House and its liberal media friends. The IRS questioned many things, demanding thousands of pages: the groups’ political beliefs, plans to run for office, names of financial backers, and even the content of their prayers.
The IRS selected organizations for deeper scrutiny if their applications contained any of the following words or phrases: tea party, patriots, Israel, government spending, government debt, taxes, criticism of how the country is being run, advocating education about the Constitution or Bill of Rights, questioning the integrity of federal elections, and challenging Obamacare. This was a blatant, obvious political agenda by a government tax collection agency.
The conservative groups went to court, and the federal government fought them. Meanwhile, government hard drives mysteriously went missing and the IRS destroyed tens of thousands of emails. The head of the Tax Exempt Division at the IRS, Lois Lerner, pled the Fifth Amendment rather than testify to Congress. Later, she retired with a $129,000 bonus and a pension. All funded with your tax dollars.
Years went by, and the clock finally ran out on the Obama administration. However, the new Trump administration sought justice. But in a shocking turn of events, the lawyers for Lerner and her deputy at the IRS, Holly Paz, argued that they should not be compelled to testify publicly about their actions. Incredibly, they said their very lives would be in danger if they testified about how IRS employees handled the applications for tax-exempt status from Tea Party groups. Yes, now they are playing the victims. A judge is yet to rule on their petition.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has agreed to settle the lawsuits for $3.5 million, saying the IRS actions were illegal and cannot be allowed to happen again. The Attorney General of the United States offered an apology to more than 450 groups that were part of the lawsuits.
This sordid episode sounds like it happened in a banana republic, not in America. But yes, it did happen here. Government employees bullying political groups, then being fearful to explain their actions in public. Does that sound like a government of we the people? Where American citizens have First Amendment rights under our Constitution?
And lest our liberal friends try to wave it off as a conservative cause, we should note that some liberal groups were also targeted. Not nearly as many as the conservative groups, but one notable example was the Occupy movement.
So, now that we have Republicans in Congress and the White House, it is time to implement ironclad guarantees that this will never happen again. Republicans are the party of individual freedom, so now is the time to protect us and future generations. The government needs to prevent any future president, liberal or conservative, from using a government agency to harass and bully American citizens.
After all, this time it was the IRS and a liberal president who targeted 450 conservative organizations. Next time it could be some other government agency – the FBI, OSHA, EPA, Agriculture Department, Labor Department, etc. And the target could be any one of us.
Scott S. Kramer is chairman of the Republican Party of Kendall County.