Democrat-heavy IRS will always distrust tea parties

Cheryl Casey / Shutterstock.com

Protesters attend nationwide rally against increased government spending in Pensacola, Florida on tax day, April 15, 2009.

Article Highlights

  • The public servants figuring out which groups qualified for 501(c)4 status were mostly Democrats surrounded by Democrats.

    Tweet This

  • Without positing a conspiracy or bad motives, it's easy to see why the IRS would stack the deck against conservatives.

    Tweet This

If you take a group of Democrats who are also unionized government employees, and put them in charge of policing political speech, it doesn't matter how professional and well-intentioned they are. The result will be much like the debacle in the Cincinnati office of the IRS.

The IRS's targeting of Tea Party groups doesn't look like a Nixonian abuse of power by the Obama White House. And there's no reason to even posit evil intent by the IRS officials who formulated, approved or executed the inappropriate guidelines for picking groups to scrutinize most closely.

There's a fairly innocent -- and fairly probable -- explanation for what the IRS did, and it boils down to the natural suspicion people have of those with opposing views.

The public servants figuring out which groups qualified for 501(c)4 "social welfare" non-profit status were mostly Democrats surrounded by mostly Democrats.

Democrats received 75 percent of the campaign contributions I could trace to employees of the IRS Cincinnati office over the last three election cycles. In the 2012 election, every donation traceable to this office went to President Obama or liberal Sen. Sherrod Brown.

This is an environment where even those trying to be fair could develop a disproportionate distrust of the Tea Party.

One IRS worker -- a member of NTEU and contributor to its PAC, which gives 96 percent of its money to Democratic candidates -- explained it this way: "The reason NTEU mostly supports Democratic candidates for office is because Democratic candidates are mostly more supportive of civil servants/government employees."

Another IRS employee made a similar point in an email to me: "Do you think people willing to sacrifice lucrative private sector careers to work in tax administration ... are generally going to support the party directed by Grover Norquist?" he asked, rhetorically, referring to the head of Americans for Tax Reform, which lobbies to cut taxes and shrink government.

In another email, this same IRS employee blamed Republicans for making the IRS's job so difficult that they have to cut corners. He wrote of "career civil servants trying to cope with an impossible job, a job made impossible primarily by the likes of Boehner, Boustany, Issa, et al," referring to three GOP lawmakers.

So, begin with these partisan and ideological assumptions and then consider the job these civil servants had to do. The law and IRS regulations provide incomplete guidance on what qualifies as "social welfare" activity. Bureaucrats are left alone to try to identify which groups are too political. It's human nature to suspect "the other side" of being overly political, while seeing your own side as truly pursuing "social welfare."

In another email, an IRS official defended the agency's questions for Tea Party groups as "part of a legitimate inquiry as to whether an organization is political in nature, or is in some reasonable sense existing to promote social welfare."

If you're a federal employee, and a member of the National Treasury Employees' Union, you may not see how it serves "social welfare" to advocate shrinking the government, cutting taxes and slashing spending.

Documents made public show that the IRS asked applicants, "Indicate your position regarding each issue" on which they worked. Why does it matter what position a group took? Maybe one side of an issue is considered more political than the other.

One of my IRS correspondents had an interesting detail on his social media profile. He belongs to a Facebook group titled "Target the Shutdown at the Tea Party States." Created in the run-up to the 2011 debt-ceiling showdown, the group's Facebook page advocated a hard-nosed tactic for President Obama to take in negotiating with House Republicans:

"My idea would be to target the shutdown at Tea Party states," the group's page explains. "For instance, shut down air traffic control at airports in Norfolk, Tampa, Nashville, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, etc...."

Without positing a conspiracy or bad motives, it's easy to see why the IRS would stack the deck against conservatives.

Here's the problem: As long as we have a civil service workforce that leans Left, and as long as we have an income tax system that requires the IRS to police political speech, conservative groups can always expect special IRS scrutiny.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Timothy P.
Carney
  • Timothy P. Carney helps direct AEI’s Culture of Competition Project, which examines barriers to competition in all areas of American life, from the economy to the world of ideas. Carney has over a decade of experience as a journalist covering the intersection of politics and economics. His work at AEI focuses on how to reinvigorate a competitive culture in America in which all can reap the benefits of a fair economy.


     


    Follow Timothy Carney on Twitter.

  • Email: timothy.carney@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011
image Net neutrality rundown: What the NPRM means for you
image The Schuette decision
image Snatching failure from victory in Afghanistan
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.