The IRS’s war on free speech

The Obama administration’s IRS actively attempted to enlist the FBI in its war against the Tea Party.

Does anyone still think this is a “phony scandal?”

Does the following scenario sound like the United States of America, the land of liberty, or does it sound like a dictatorship, a land of paranoia and fear – where the government permits no challenges to its power?


The sitting government, angry that dissenting citizens are challenging its hold on power, decides to subject those citizens to a long string of abuses, including bureaucratic delays that limit free speech rights, targeted audits designed for intimidation, and selective leaks of private information, for the purpose of humiliation.

When those efforts fail to stem the tide of dissent, the frustrated government tries to criminalize disagreement, handing over voluminous files on individual citizens to a powerful law enforcement agency, all in the hopes that law enforcement will take action, possibly even imprisoning dissenters.

Yet this is exactly the scenario that’s unfolding in the Obama administration’s IRS, where partisan zealots not only targeted conservatives for all the pain the IRS can inflict, it also dumped over 1.1 million documents taxpayer documents on the FBI in the hopes that the FBI would actively work to criminalize dissent.

It’s difficult to overstate the chilling effect of this recent revelation. Obama Administration officials were willing to go to the greatest of lengths – even to violate the law themselves – to suppress the Tea Party and limit Americans’ First Amendment rights.

And they did this without any evidence of Tea Party wrongdoing but rather because the Obama administration and key Democrats in Congress hated the Tea Party’s message and – even more – hated that Americans were responding.

Here’s what we now know: In response to blatant and overwhelming political pressure, the IRS launched a campaign to not just suppress Tea Party speech but also to effectively overrule a Supreme Court case that it did not like – Citizens United v. FEC.

In this effort it was cheered on not only by Congressional Democrats who specifically called for IRS action against named conservative groups, but also by the President of the United States, who publicly attacked Americans for exercising their First Amendment rights in speech after speech.

Using all the power inherent in America’s sprawling, unaccountable bureaucracies, it delayed applications, launched audits, leaked documents, and even attempted to enlist other agencies (like the Federal Election Commission) in its speech-suppressing effort.

All of this is bad enough, but attempting to enlist the FBI crosses a dangerous line.

To be clear, the IRS was not simply dedicated to stopping free speech, it was trying to use the full power of federal law enforcement to destroy lives. Prison sentences tear apart families, end careers, and destroy marriages. Prison sentences change people irrevocably. Yet the IRS was willing to take that step, to inflict that kind of punishment on American citizens, simply because it hated a growing conservative movement.

Did the FBI take the bait? Did it investigate the Tea Party in response to the IRS’s document dump? Is the FBI investigating the Tea Party even as it investigates the IRS for its own misconduct?

These are just some of the questions that the FBI and IRS now must answer. I’m hopeful that the FBI did the right thing and refused to participate in the IRS’s misconduct. I’m hopeful, but I can’t be certain.

In February, I called for a special counsel to investigate the IRS targeting scheme. Now that the IRS pulled the FBI into its own misconduct, a special counsel is more critical than ever. Can the public have confidence that the same FBI the IRS sought to turn on the Tea Party can it now properly investigate the IRS?

But I’m not waiting for a special counsel. As I’ve written before, at the ACLJ we represent 41 conservative groups in 22 states in a civil action against the IRS and its key officials. We intend to discover exactly how the IRS attempted to abuse the criminal justice system to punish conservative speech. We intend to hold the IRS accountable.

Until we do, the very idea of the United States as the “land of liberty” is in jeopardy. Disagreeing with the Obama Administration is not a crime. Rather, on some of the most important issues of our time, it is our duty.