Georgia Voices: The IRS scandal — Root out the rottenness
by The Savannah Morning News
May 16, 2013 09:39 PM | 1769 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The power to tax is the power to destroy. That’s why the scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service is so explosive — and so chilling to a healthy democracy.

A Treasury Department inspector general’s report finds that IRS staffers used ideological criteria to choose their targets for special attention for 18 months, starting in 2010.

In this case, they scoped out conservative organizations — groups that used words such as “tea party” or “patriots” in their names.

That’s unpardonable. And potentially criminal. Those responsible must be rooted out and punished.

The IRS must be politically neutral. While presidents may be tempted to use this part of the nation’s executive branch to punish enemies and reward friends — President Obama joked about doing exactly that in 2009 during a commencement speech at Arizona State University, a line that’s horribly unfunny now — the nation’s tax enforcement agency must stick to the rules and be fair and impartial.

Otherwise, it poisons the entire taxing system. Legitimacy goes down the drain.

That’s equally true had the IRS targeted liberal organizations, as opposed to those with conservative leanings.

President Obama rightly called this news “outrageous,” adding that “I’ve got no patience with it.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Obama announced that Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller resigned.

That’s proper. Heads must roll at the IRS.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew should be hauled onto the carpet as well, as the IRS is part of his department’s responsibility.

And not just because the IRS abused its authority. Worse, it lied about it. Repeatedly.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Tuesday that Mr. Miller “basically misled me and purposefully did so” when he told legislators three times last year that tea party groups were not being targeted by the agency.

“He purposely misled me because he knew better,” he told Newsmax. “That bothers me quite a bit. One reason they’re apologizing right now is they know the investigative arm is about to take them to task — and there are whistleblowers, too, who know that this has been wrong.”

Let’s hope these noisemakers raise the roof. Whistleblowers help keep government abuse in check. But Mr. Miller isn’t the only one who’s been tripped up while hiding this corrupt mess.

Lois Lerner, head of the IRS’ tax-exempt organization office, said she knew about the targeting. Yet last Friday, she seemed to say that she learned about it from news reports last year.

So when agency execs now claim that there was no political motivation involved in the targeting, or that higher-ups didn’t know about it, is that fact? Or are they spinning more fiction?

Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama had been sprinting as fast as he can away from this scandal within his administration. He knows it’s toxic. So do his Democratic allies in Congress.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters earlier Wednesday the president would meet with senior Treasury Department officials “to yak about the next steps that he hopes to be taken” to address the problems at the IRS and hold agency officials for singling out conservative groups.

“Actions need to be taken to hold people accountable for their failures and to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

We couldn’t agree more.

The acting IRS commissioner had to go — and he should take Ms. Lerner with him. Her credibility is shot.

Meanwhile, considering the serious nature of this violation of trust, more than “yakking” should be done.

An investigation should extend further up the chain of command from the IRS, to the Treasury Department and, if there’s evidence, to The White House.

Perhaps even a special prosecutor should be appointed.

At present, this doesn’t appear to be a case of a few power-mad IRS staffers going rogue. Instead, a number of IRS agents and managers were involved. By 2011, they had set aside more than 100 applications for tax-exempt status for review based on ideology.

These reviews are necessary, of course. Organizations that apply for a break from federal taxes must be examined. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do them.

The IRS chose poorly. To completely root out this rottenness, it’s necessary to see how far up the chain it goes.
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