The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Nothing New Under the IRS Sun

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


By now I am sure you have heard that the IRS targeted and harassed Tea Party and conservative groups that were trying to obtain non-profit status.  If a group used words like “tea party” or “patriot” in their organization’s name or the phrase “making America a better place to live” it was enough to raise the ire of some IRS bureaucrats who would then slow-walk their application for non-profit standing with the agency.  The IRS would also ask of the groups for information that were an unnecessary or illegal intrusion into their affairs such as a list of their donors, whether one of the organization’s executives was planning to run for office, or what political affiliation they had.

About a year ago, members of Congress were beginning to hear about how various conservative groups were being hassled by the IRS.  Their staff met with the Treasury Department inspector general’s office about the matter.  As a result, the inspector general began investigating the complaints about the IRS overreach.  The inspector general released his report on Tuesday.

I do not need to bother you with much further detail about the matter because it is all over the news, it is clear the issue is not going away, and new information will likely be discovered.  The House Ways and Means Committee is having a hearing this Friday and the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations is planning a hearing next Wednesday.  Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Carl Levin (D-Mich), and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have called for hearings as well.  But what you may have missed in all the kerfuffle is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal by James Bovard, a Libertarian author that focuses on waste, abuse, and corruption in government.  He details how these recent actions by the IRS are not the first time the agency has conducted highly questionable and political witch-hunts on behalf of a president and his administration.  It is worth the read.

Bovard discusses how President Franklin Roosevelt used the agency to go after newspaper publishers, such as William Randolph Hearst, who opposed the New Deal or to intimidate his political rivals.

It is shocking to read Bovard’s tale of how President John Kennedy at a press conference let it be known that he expected the IRS to “be vigilant in policing the tax-exempt status of questionable (read: conservative) organizations.”  Days later the “Ideological Organizations Audit Project” was created that hounded several conservative groups.  His administration also used the agency to go after steel companies so that they would support “voluntary” price controls.  If they did not, their reward was an audit.

And who can forget President Nixon’s enemy list and how his administration went after organizations and individuals that spoke out against his policies?

Bovard points out that for several years following Nixon, public outage at the IRS was limited to their usual abuse of individual innocent taxpayers, until President Clinton came along.  First reported in a Wall Street Journal column, the Clinton administration and the Democratic National Committee produced a report "Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce” that went after magazines, think-tanks, and other groups and individuals that were critical of President Clinton.  In the years that followed, many groups mentioned in the report were audited by the IRS, as well as several high-profile individuals.

All of this injustice should remind American citizens why our founding fathers wanted a small, federal government and for most of the power to be relegated to the states and to the individual.  It is precisely this type of abuse of power they wanted to avoid.

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