All Points: IRS raises questions about targeting but also about exemptions

Posted Sunday, May. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information All Points each Monday features reader responses to a question posed by the Editorial Board. With each week’s responses comes the next week’s question. All Points responses are not counted toward the monthly limit of one letter to the editor from each writer. Readers are welcome to send their own ideas for All Points topics to Editorial Director Mike Norman, mnorman@star-telegram.com.

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The acting head of the Internal Revenue Service has been fired and the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the tax agency’s special scrutiny of “tea party” and “patriot” groups’ applications for tax-free status.

At best, it was reckless mishandling of a serious regulatory duty. The IRS must determine whether these are social welfare organizations that qualify as tax-exempt or political organizations that don’t.

But at worst, it was misuse of the IRS and its powers for political purposes, something that’s happened in previous administrations.

What does it look like to you?

Bigger problem

No one weeps for the IRS since nothing is more chilling for a taxpayer than getting a letter from that agency. That being said, the true problem is far greater than malfeasance in the IRS.

Congress must (but will not) address the bigger issue of granting tax-exempt status to politically affiliated groups no matter their ideology. Political groups should not be evading taxes any more than individual citizens claiming an occasional good Samaritan act on their tax return.

— Michael Putnam, Fort Worth

Defying credulity

An old maxim from the intelligence community that holds true regarding the IRS targeting controversy:

Once = happenstance. Twice = coincidence. Three times = hostile action.

There is no rational — or moral — excuse for IRS management “independently” targeting only conservatives and fast-tracking only progressives.

There is no chance that two minor subordinates, “coincidentally” located in the battleground state of Ohio, pulled off a nationwide IRS persecution of President Obama’s opponents and did it without the IRS or the White House knowing a thing about it.

Imagining that the White House did not, at worst, create, and, at best, condone, an atmosphere that encouraged this demands a suspension of disbelief, or any logic or reason.

— Jerry Howard, Euless

Multiple firings

The IRS can’t explain this away, and every American should be nervous. How high this went up the White House chain of influence is up for discussion, but if the White House was clueless, then someone was asleep at the wheel.

If they want to make it right, fire people. Lots of people. Backdate their illegal activities and adjust, or eliminate, their pensions.

— Jeff Murray, Weatherford

No lobbying exemption

Almost everybody dislikes the IRS, but the so-called scandal concerning its Tax Exempt & Government Entities Division has a real but hidden benefit, separate from the opportunity for our congressional representatives to grandstand and demagogue the issue.

That benefit is to focus our attention on why any entity that engages in lobbying should ever receive tax-exempt status. Congress needs to act to provide that any entity that participates in lobbying or political campaigns simply cannot receive tax-exempt status.

Those corporations are not prohibited from engaging in political free speech; they just do not get their political activities subsidized by the rest of us by avoiding paying taxes on their income.

And, it would also reduce the bureaucracy of the IRS, which conservatives especially should think is a good thing.

— Herman I. Morris, Fort Worth

Late accountability

It’s time the American people woke up. If you’re a patriot and against Obama, you’ll be persecuted by the IRS.

There’s no way this miscarriage was carried out by low-level employees. There’s no way this administration was not the head of the snake.

The fact that other administrations did this is a moot point. We, as citizens, did not do our job. Shame on us. A late start on holding any administration accountable for our constitutional protections is better than not starting at all.

— Lyn Canyon, North Richland Hills

Chicago-style politics

Look at those targeted. It’s obvious that those in political power directed these actions. There is no way it was an accident.

This is Chicago politics in the White House. If Obama didn’t lead this, those surrounding him did. It is a violation of public trust and of our way of life as a free people.

— Tom Stamey, Fort Worth

Seeking martyrdom

On Sept. 28, 2010, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus sent a letter to then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman demanding more scrutiny of 501(c) organizations, because The New York Times, Bloomberg News and other media outlets were reporting political contributions being funneled to nonprofit organizations at a time when a rash of conservative groups began applying for tax-exempt status. Baucus referenced a Sept. 16, 2010, Time article, “The New GOP Money Stampede.”

The tea party was still largely an unknown entity at the time, seeking acceptance in the Republican Party. But its outlandish racial innuendos aimed at President Obama alienated African Americans. This resulted in the resignation of Tea Party Express director Mark Williams for racist commentaries, while at the same time Rep. Michele Bachmann was creating the House Tea Party Caucus.

In hindsight, there is a de facto attempt to make the organization a nonpolitical martyr.

— Eddie Griffin, Fort Worth

Plausible gullibility

Of course the IRS exceeded its responsibility and unlawfully investigated the tea party and other conservative groups. But senior members of the White House staff knew about it.

They didn’t tell the president because this gives him plausible deniabilty. This mentality allows Obama to tell the people that he didn’t know about this because of the “plausible gullibility” of the masses.

— Walter H. Delashmit, Justin

Manufactured scandal

The wording in the bit of IRS tax code that congressional Republicans are so incensed about — IRC 501(c)(4) — provides for exemption of:

•  Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.

•  Local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational or recreational purposes.

Political organizations plainly do not qualify for exemption under this section of the tax code, and IRS employees were doing what we pay them for — looking for tax cheats. This “scandal” is typical Republican scandal-out-of-nothing tactics.

— Sherry Myrick, Brownwood

Exemption confusion

In the days before the financial disaster of 2007-08, one could send one’s widow’s mite to 501(c)(3) organizations. One knew the good uses those donations were used for. One had visited The Carter Center, which “wages peace, fights disease, builds hope.” One knew how people suffered from Alzheimer’s. One knew firsthand the value given back to us by the Fort Worth Symphony. One had been a volunteer and knew the unmatched results of Guardianship Services.

So, what is one to think of a new group, out of the blue, which claims to teach the Constitution or somehow “promote social welfare,” a so-called 501(c)(4) group, trying to gain the blessings of Uncle Sam?

Wouldn’t one think: “Not so fast”?

— Peggy Meade Cohen, Fort Worth

Sudden indignation

On Sept. 21, 2012, Bill Moyers interviewed Trevor Potter, general counsel to the 2008 McCain presidential campaign. At about the 19-minute mark, the conversation turned to the IRS questioning “tea party” groups about what their intentions were as stated in their applications (revealed in The New York Times).

The IRS also had been questioning “high-dollar” donors about the tax status of their donations. This, amazingly, caused a “cease and desist” letter to be written by six influential Republican senators (including John Cornyn) and sent to the IRS commissioner.

All this occurred in May 2011 — two years ago! Why is it such an affront to our liberties now? Why is this administration backing down? Doesn’t the honest taxpayer want the IRS going after fraudulent and deceptive groups? I do!

— Tom Smusz, Brock

Tax-free advocacy

This is not as nefarious as the Republicans want it to be. A bureaucracy was confronted with a lot of the same new thing in a short time and red-flagged it for special attention. If there had been hundreds of Socialist Worker Party groups or Cat Appreciation Societies all at once, those would have received extra scrutiny also.

The last thing the Obama administration wanted was this appearance of bias — that only helps their opponents. With that said, some of the criteria — suspiciousness of education about the Constitution, for instance — are deeply distressing.

However, the larger issue is whether any of these political groups — left, right or center, large or small — should be allowed tax-free status, when their purpose is clearly advocacy, not the legally required purpose of social welfare.

— George Michael Sherry, Fort Worth

Taxing power

The IRS, both now and in the past, has been used by American presidents to their own political ends. The power to tax is the power to destroy, and as long as the IRS exists it will be used for such purposes.

The only solution is to abolish the IRS and institute a simple and fair system that will allow everyone from the largest corporations down to contribute to the maintenance of our country. No one wants to support a politically corrupt agency that has so many confusing and convoluted requirements that it takes an army of lawyers to even begin to comprehend the twists and turns.

— Michael E. Holland, Fort Worth

Game winning

For this administration, the name of the game is winning — get into office and stay in office. The misuse of the IRS is just one of a laundry list of grievances it has used to accomplish that goal. Each one tops the last in being more egregious.

— Ruth Orren, Fort Worth

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