In the wake of one of the worst abuses of government power in recent history, many are rushing to frame the Internal Revenue Service scandal as simply an attack on conservative activists. That view risks creating a partisan political football and misses a fundamentally scarier abuse that exceeds the scandals of Watergate or any other prior government abuse.
The IRS has admitted that since May 2010 it targeted grassroots-conservative organizations that had applied for tax-exempt status, unfairly subjecting them to rigorous scrutiny due to their political leanings.
Such groups were told they were required to comply with IRS requests, no matter how absurd, in order to obtain non-profit status. Some were ask to provide book reports, names of family members, family members’ political affiliations, lists of donors and more. A report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration this week begins to highlight the extent of misbehavior.
Following the admission, many have accused the IRS of misusing and misrepresenting its power for political advantage, and it’s true that silencing – or at least handcuffing – conservatives in the run-up to the 2012 election could very well have made an impact.
But this abuse extends far beyond the last or next election and strikes at the very core of the people’s relationship with their government.
The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote that, “A bedrock principle of U.S. democracy is that the coercive powers of government are never used for partisan purposes.”
In her apology, Lois G. Lerner, IRS director of exempt organization, insisted that the extra scrutiny was not politically motivated. The narrow focus on partisanship as the primary point of controversy is dangerous. This is not first and foremost a partisan issue.
It doesn’t matter whom the IRS was targeting or what specific beliefs they held: the fact remains that for years the agency used its power to discourage and intimidate Americans from speaking out against what they viewed as bad policies, stifling the First Amendment right of every citizen to hold government accountable.
The president says he was not aware of the problem. If so, then the state of our freedom is far worse than any of us has imagined – the gray suits are in place and already taking over.
Pundits have compared the current scandal to Watergate, but this one, frankly, is worse.
When the abuses of Watergate – which included misuse of the IRS to launch audits against Nixon’s enemies - were discovered, they stopped and the perpetrators were brought to justice.
We don’t yet know just how high the knowledge of the IRS practice reached, but it’s already clear that a broad element of the agency – including those with the power to stop it – knew about this blatant violation of basic constitutional rights for years and did nothing to stop it.
Despite Ms. Lerner’s statements to the contrary, it’s clear the IRS has been using its power for years to discourage and intimidate Americans from participating in their right to hold government accountable.
This abuse of power and “unequal treatment under the law” is truly chilling, and must not be brushed away with apologies or toothless inspector-generals’ reports.
It demands a rigorous congressional investigation and severe punishment of the power-drunk bureaucrats who carried it out.
No government agency must be allowed to abuse its powers so blatantly and get away with it. The freedom Americans hold so dearly is at stake.
We must demand that government account for its actions.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) rightly captured the problem in a written statement when he said, “this shameful abuse of power transcend partisan differences. This should not be dismissed as just another conflict between left and right; it is a conflict between the federal government and the American people.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) noted, “What’s just as concerning is the expansive role this agency is charged to take in enforcing ObamaCare. An agency that has admitted to engaging in such corrupt, political activities has no place assessing or monitoring Americans’ personal health information.”
Finally, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said, “The First Amendment cannot and should not be renegotiated depending on which party holds power… I am determined to hold the IRS accountable for these unjust acts.”
We, the people, must demand that congressional leaders and the Obama administration get to the bottom of this issue and remove not just the responsible parties but the threat to our freedoms.
The IRS’s actions are the stuff of Third World juntas, not the greatest constitutional republic in human history.
It is unacceptable for a government agency use its power to intimidate American citizens into silence. FreedomWorks has been warning of this for years.
We must stop this abuse of government over the governed and ensure this never happens again to any segment of the American population, regardless of their political leanings.
Matt Kibbe is president and chief community organizer of Free the People. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "Don't Hurt People and Don't Take Their Stuff." Follow him on Twitter at @MKibbe.