IRS “scandal” may not be so scandalous after all

One of the numerous “scandal” stories in the news this week is the revelation that the IRS supposedly “targeted” conservative political groups for special attention and tax audits.

The notion that the IRS would target any political organization for special audits in order to crush opposition to the administration is a scary one indeed.

I was active in the antiwar and then the Nixon impeachment movements when former President Nixon drew up his infamous “enemies list.”

Much more recently, we all remember how Karl Rove made a list of U.S. attorneys who would not go along with his fake “voter fraud” schemes, and then proceeded to get the Justice Department to fire them.

From what I can tell so far, and this can always change as new information becomes available, the so-called IRS “scandal” is not at all analogous to the Nixon or Rove enemy lists.

First, we need to remember that for a long time now, groups with the 501( c ) tax status that are social welfare organizations have been tax exempt and haven’t had to report the names of their donors. All the IRS has had to do is ensure that such groups really meet the criteria for “social welfare” groups and everything is OK. IRS guidelines permit an organization that helps jobless people find jobs or one that raises money to buy sporting events tickets for poor children, for example, to qualify.

Then came the Supreme Court with its Citizens United decision allowing Karl Rove to set up his political 501( c ) 4 groups that could call themselves “social welfare” groups but, unlike officially political organizations, keep their donors secret and remain tax exempt. So an ad that said the way to keep quality health care in America was to dump Obama was no longer “political” but rather advocacy for social welfare.

The High Court ruling, for the nation, meant corporations could buy elections in secret and pay no taxes. For the IRS, which is legally bound to determine whether groups that claim the tax exemption, and the mantle of secrecy regarding their donors, really deserve that status, the job has become tougher.

An IRS trying to determine whether the Rove groups were true “social welfare” organizations entitled to keep secret their donors and remain tax exempt amounts to a federal agency doing its mandated job. It has nothing in common with the government going after political enemies, as with Nixon or Rove during the Bush years.

One could argue, and I would agree, that if the IRS has looked only at right-wing groups we might have a scandal. This has not yet been determined. There has been no investigation by the Obama administration, Congress or any credible body yet that could allow that determination to be made. Until then, why are we hearing about a “scandal”?

The real scandal is the one behind this “scandal”: Since Citizens United, wealthy individuals, groups and corporations have been allowed to manipulate and determine political outcomes in our electoral system without disclosing themselves or their donors.

The only reason the IRS is even involved in any of this is because the law requires it to be involved when the source of donors behind a group is not transparent enough to make it obvious that the group actually deserves the exemptions or special treatment it is getting.

If the Karl Rove groups, the tea party groups or any of the others that have been looked at by the IRS had disclosed the names of their donors and conducted all their other business out in the open, where election business is supposed to be conducted, and if overtly political groups stopped masquerading as “social welfare” groups, the IRS would have no business looking at them at all. There would be no “scandal.”

Photo: Union workers and NAACP members at a rally and march from the offices of Koch Industries to United Nations headquarters, Dec. 10, in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.