12 May 2013

An IRS inquisition against conservatives?

Let's be clear about what happened. When people report that the Internal Revenue Service was "auditing" Tea Party organizations and other conservative groups, an impression is created that the government is after evidence of tax evasion with an idea of prosecuting political enemies. What actually appears to have happened is that IRS investigators were scrutinizing claims of tax-exempt status for "social welfare" organizations that aren't supposed to engage in electioneering. This certainly inconveniences some groups, but to characterize it as "harassment," as one TP leader does, is maybe a little excessive. What seems questionable about the IRS activity, as one of the service's own higher-ups apparently realized, was its selectivity. The investigations singled out organizations identified with the Tea Party or conservatism, while presumably pro-Democratic organizations, perhaps equally abusive of tax-exempt status, didn't get the same scrutiny. Nearly two years ago, however, the investigators were ordered to broaden their vocabulary of search terms to avoid the appearance of singling out conservatives. In other words, this is old news now just happening to come to light. It'll be another black eye for the Obama administration because of the appearance or loose rhetoric of harassment, and because the American reflex is to give dissent the benefit of the doubt. If Democrats run the government, and the government, through the IRS, refuses tax-exempt status to organizations sympathetic toward the Republican party, people will automatically assume that the Democrats are attempting, in this small way, to suppress or at least handicap dissent. Rather than risk the appearance of selective, partisan scrutiny, the right thing to do might be to do away with the 501(c)4 exemption rule, which has been problematic since it was instituted. The "social welfare" category of advocacy has proven too nebulous to maintain strict distinctions between advocacy and electioneering, especially at a time when everything seems politicized and partisan. Why these groups were thought entitled to tax exemptions in the first place eludes me, and the exemption process has only enabled mischief. It's too late now to end a mistake with a minimum of embarrassment, and now's as good a time as any for everyone to take their medicine.


Anonymous said...

For me, personally, I never give dissenters the benefit of the doubt in a free, democratic society. Simply because they have no real reason to dissent. The opposite goes for a society where the average person has no voice in government or political power. The only "power" they have, in these cases, is dissent.

I also assume (perhaps wrongly)that in the US, "conservatives", hating taxes the way they do, are more likely to attempt to hide at least part of their income, therefore ought to be more likely to be audited.

Samuel Wilson said...

I hate to say it, but your reasoning re: dissent in a democratic society reminds me of the attitude Americans often have toward dissidents from the left: since you have the right to complain, you have no right to complain. But I suppose it depends on what we mean by "dissent." It seems self-evident that, between elections, there's always room for people to say that the duly-elected government is doing something wrong. That's dissent in my book. It doesn't always mean you're out to replace the government.

Having said all that, I'll add that there's nothing wrong with your skepticism toward dissent, given how liberals often seem to go too far the other way in giving all of them the benefit of the doubt indiscriminately. Dissent is often legitimate criticism, but it ought to be able to stand legitimate criticism itself.

Anonymous said...

Pointing out unethical, amoral or criminal activities of an individual (politician or other) is not what I consider dissent. That is what I consider "duty".

Dissent, to me, is "Oh look this government is treating a certain segment of the population like second class citizens." or "Hey, the government is acting against the Constitution." would be examples of legitimate dissent.

To me there is a solid difference between dissent and sour grapes.

Samuel Wilson said...

Of course, when one group of people claims that the Constitution is being violated, another calls that sour grapes. It all depends on the party in power for too many people.

Anonymous said...

If an accusation exists, it is either true or untrue. If it is untrue it is sour grapes. The Truth is independent of partisanship or party politics or whatever excuse people may dig up for ignoring it.