Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Don't Politicize the IRS, End It

According to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Danny Werfel, the agency’s internal investigation of recent scandals has, “not found evidence of intentional wrongdoing by IRS personnel, or involvement in these matters by anyone outside of the IRS.”

This is meant to allay concerns that the IRS subjected conservatives and Tea Party groups to audits and inappropriate questioning out of political motivation, or under orders from the White House.

As part of Werfel’s 30-day progress report on the IRS’ scrutiny of itself, much of which is hidden from taxpayers, he suggests it was not only limited-government and right-of-center outfits that received zealous inquiry when applying for tax-exempt status. Presumably, this is submitted as exonerating evidence: The IRS may be officious, but it is unimpeachably even-handed.

One is reminded of America’s second-most detestable federal outfit: the Transportation Security Administration.

In the autumn of 2010, when the TSA ramped up its now-ubiquitous and grotesque security protocols at US airports, including “enhanced pat-downs,” some Americans reacted with justifiable fury. And, for a while, the media and the agency itself responded to citizens’ objections.

Every time a shaky video would emerge of some crying toddler being forced to allow a blue-fingered government stooge to prod the disconsolate tot as a condition of boarding a plane to Disney World, the TSA would conduct an internal investigation. Invariably, they would find that proper policy had been followed.

And that’s the problem: the policy.

If your policy is to violate the rights and dignity of innocent people in the name of protecting their freedom, then saying you followed that policy correctly is no vindication.

The same is true of the IRS. Perhaps it targeted conservatives on orders from the White House and perhaps it did not. The point is, the IRS should not be overseeing political speech in the first place. The policy, not the politics, is the problem.

Freedom of speech is meant to be a protection against government. To have government regulate it, particularly through its power of taxation, contravenes that purpose.

And a long-term solution to the harassment of citizens seeking to exercise their God-given rights is not to be found through internal investigations, or congressional inquiries, or even a special prosecutor. It matters little if Lois Lerner goes to jail and, even if every accusation of IRS meddling in the 2012 election is true, there will be no do-over and Mitt Romney will not be installed as president.

Your political beliefs, the causes you support, and your prayers at church ought not to be subject to government oversight. Whether you are a conservative Christian, or a liberal humanist who advocates separation of church and state, you should find this proposition agreeable.

The remedy, therefore, is to remove that government influence which, by its nature and code, insinuates itself into these aspects of your life. That is, put an end to the IRS.

In the immediate aftermath of the IRS scandals, there seemed a moment when Left and Right might agree to do away with this over-reaching agency. Unfortunately, that comity did not last, and reform seems less likely as politicians have broken into their usual camps.

Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings has proclaimed the IRS case “closed” and accused Republicans of conducting a “witch hunt” by pursuing the matter further. This is a trap, and Republicans would do well to avoid it. Specifically, while Rep. Darrell Issa and other Republican leaders should continue to press the IRS, they should avoid making the issue partisan, or personal.

Indeed, Democrats wish to protect President Obama in particular, and preserve expansive government in general. And politicians of both parties stand to benefit by maintaining America’s Byzantine tax code, whereby they can parcel out favors to supporters, obscured by impenetrable bureaucratese.

But none of this serves the American people. The tax code’s pervasiveness and the power it grants members of Congress and the entrenched clerisy of the civil service skew incentives for reform.

And reform will remain elusive until Americans make it clear to their leaders that it is in their political interests.

The IRS has been around for a century and no one has ever been happy about it. For most of America’s history, its government was funded by other means. Even today, stronger alternatives beckon, such as a Fair Tax, levied on the purchase of new goods and administered by an office proscribed from taking on any other mandate.

But, despite its relative youth, the IRS looms as immovable in many Americans’ minds (likewise, the TSA is not even a dozen years old, yet calls for its abolition seem stunning to many who cannot imagine America without it).

America does not need the IRS. Five years ago, America voted for Change. In 2012, the country ratified that decision and, one way or another, change is coming. The moment has not yet passed for vision, courage, and determination to ensure we change for the better.

Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at