Much has been said, and deservedly so, about the IRS targeting conservative non-profit groups regarding their applications for tax-exempt status. Several Congressional hearings have been held about the potential abuses that occurred in the IRS on this issue. The responses from most of the IRS officials who testified have been vague, contradictory, or evasive. One took the Fifth Amendment protections and refused to answer relevant questions.
The IRS and numerous other regulatory agencies have immense power. The ability to regulate is the ability to punish. It is imperative that bureaucracies with the discretion to punish (or to reward by bestowing leniency) must be totally fair, objective and impartial in the way they dispense their duties. These agencies cannot be tied to the politics of any political party or faction if the federal system is to work fairly and efficiently. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case in the IRS or in other powerful agencies within the federal government.
A significant percentage of federal employees belong to public employee unions. That is certainly true within the IRS. Those unions deduct dues, often mandatorily, from their members in order to represent them in negotiations and also to contribute to the political campaigns of candidates for Congress and the presidency. There’s the rub. The union leadership decides which candidates receive the union money and endorsements. Most of the money contributed by the IRS union went to Democratic candidates for Congress and to the election and re-election of President Obama. The president of the IRS union, Colleen Kelley, is a frequent visitor to the White House. She made trips shortly before the conservative groups began to be singled out for inaction or denial of their requests for tax-exempt status. That raises a red flag. Does it implicate the IRS union president as a potential participant in an orchestrated effort to unleash the agency on perceived adversaries of the Obama administration? Not necessarily, but it certainly raises eyebrows.
The point is that the IRS and other federal agencies should be beyond suspicion when it comes to fairly applying laws and regulations to all parties regardless of political persuasions. That is apparently not what happened when the IRS took up the applications of the conservative non-profit groups. Did White House officials bring the IRS in and direct them to crack down on applications from the Tea Party and other conservative groups? That probably wasn’t necessary. Here is why:
On January 27, 2010 in his State of the Union Address, President Obama lambasted the members of the Supreme Court, sitting directly beneath him, for the court’s 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case that allowed corporations to use their profits to support or oppose candidates for office. The anger was clearly present in the president’s voice when he said, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limits in our elections. I don’t believe elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people.”
The Citizens United decision basically put corporations on equal footing with labor unions regarding campaign financing. President Obama didn’t like that and neither did the unions that overwhelmingly supported him. His stern admonition to the members of the high court was quite possibly a “dog whistle” that let the IRS union hierarchy know that he wanted to throw every roadblock possible in the path of conservative interests looking to maximize their participation in the elections.
There is no place in fairly administered federal agencies for partisanship, be it in the IRS, the EPA, the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor, the Energy Department or any other agency. It leads to abuses that undermine public confidence in the federal government and should be rooted out.
Dan Juneau is president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.