The IRS Targeting Scandal’s Threat to Constitutional Government

A faction whose passion to “transform” America in radical ways loses any sense of fairness or respect for the rule of law. At the center of the scandal is Lois Lerner, the IRS Director of Exempt Organizations. The House voted Lerner to be in contempt of Congress. Only six Democrats voted for the bill, again demonstrating the partisan nature of the scandal. The Obama Justice Department has refused to enforce the contempt charge. The GOP members of the House Ways and Means Committee have asked the new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, to take action, but no one expects her to do so. The faction protects its own.

By William R. Hawkins l June 8, 2015

In Federalist #27, Alexander Hamilton argued that government would be better administered at the Federal level because it would “be less apt to be tainted by the spirit of faction.” For the Framers of the Constitution, faction was a threat to both good government and personal freedom. As James Madison wrote in Federalist #10, “By faction I understand a number of citizens…who are united and actuated by some common impulse or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

Such a description fits the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) where officials of a particular faction applied the rules governing tax exempt status in a way that discriminated against conservative groups who were deemed to be opponents of the faction in power. In the light of the views of Hamilton and Madison, the IRS scandal is not a petty concern, but an abuse of power that strikes at the foundation of constitutional government.

This is particularly true when the center of the scandal is the bureaucracy set up to handle tax collection. A major purpose of the Constitution was to solve the fiscal crisis that befell the early Republic; a crisis that left the new nation defenseless and in debt. As Hamilton argued in Federalist #31 (building on Federalist #30), “the Federal government must of necessity be invested with an unqualified power of taxation in the ordinary modes.” Yet, as Madison has already argued, “The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality.” It is the lack of “impartiality” in the conduct of one of the government’s most important functions which makes the IRS scandal so dangerous. And it is the complexity of the tax code that presents factions with the ability to play favorites and twist procedures in an activist fashion that goes far beyond what should be the mundane task of collecting revenue.

It has been two years since the IRS scandal came to light. The Center for Competitive Politics has laid out the time line, summing up its findings as follows:

In May 2013, reports surfaced and investigations began into the revelation that the Internal Revenue Service had been scrutinizing groups applying for 501(c)(4) status using politically biased criteria. Beginning in March 2010, groups with names containing the words “Tea Party” or “patriot” were singled out for greater IRS scrutiny. Later, in an attempt to change from overtly partisan to more general criteria, the IRS shifted to targeting organizations with the goal of “teaching about the Constitution.” In addition to using these outrageous criteria, IRS officials were dishonest about their actions, repeatedly testifying before members of Congress that there was no targeting program. After admitting that the targeting had occurred, the IRS suggested that it was merely the result of a rogue group of agents in its Cincinnati office, a claim that has since been debunked by Congressional investigators.

It is obvious why members of this liberal faction at the IRS would fear groups that want to raise public awareness of the principles of the Constitution.

The IRS faction demanded applicants from targeted non-profit groups to provide the personal information of the groups’ supporters and employees, copies of minutes from board meetings, any communications with legislative bodies, print outs of every web or social media posting, plus access to “members only” website features. This amounted to compiling political research on opponents of the Obama administration, while using the process to hobble the ability of the targeted group to operate.

An investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee discovered that the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, had asked the IRS for information on the group True the Vote, which works to keep illegal voters out of the polling booth.

A faction whose passion to “transform” America in radical ways loses any sense of fairness or respect for the rule of law. At the center of the scandal is Lois Lerner, the IRS Director of Exempt Organizations. She was initially placed on administration leave, but later retired with full benefits. When she was compelled to testify before Congress, she pleaded the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination. On May 7, 2014, the House voted Lerner to be in contempt of Congress. Only six Democrats voted for the bill, again demonstrating the partisan nature of the scandal. The Obama Justice Department has refused to enforce the contempt charge. The GOP members of the House Ways and Means Committee have asked the new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, to take action, but no one expects her to do so. The faction protects its own.

Madison thought that factions could be eliminated by doing on a much larger scale what Lerner tried to do at the IRS, “by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence.” But he rejected this option because it would be “folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction.” The only proper way to defeat a faction and maintain the rule of law is by mustering a superior political movement that holds to proper principles. That is what the liberal faction was trying to prevent at the IRS, and why the integrity of government as well as of elections must be vigilantly and vigorous defended. Factions working “against the interests of the community” must not win the day.