News reports make it look like the IRS is completely out of control. Worse, the agency is behaving much as it did during the Nixon Administration, when the president’s political opponents were deliberately singled out for audits.
The Tea Party isn’t the only group on the IRS’s hit list. It now appears that the Internal Revenue Service went after Billy Graham, or rather two organizations founded by the famed evangelist, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the charity Samaritan’s Purse.
This indicates that the IRS was targeting Christian groups and cultural conservatives, as well as the libertarian Tea Party. The service’s actions were so blatant that they prompted noted evangelist Franklin Graham (Billy’s son) to make a blistering attack on the president.
Graham’s Son Accuses President of Bias and Unethical Behavior
Franklin, who runs the organizations, went so far as to tell the press that he felt the IRS audits the two groups received in 2012 were an attempt to target and intimidate him and his famous father. Franklin also said he believes that the Obama administration was behind the audits.
Graham sent reporters and President Obama a letter in which he said IRS agents had visited his family’s offices in October 2012 right before the election. Graham believes his group was targeted after he recommended that voters make decisions based on biblical principles on marriage. He believes that it was full-paged ads in supports of initiatives to ban gay marriage and show support for Israel placed by the Evangelistic Association that prompted IRS action.
Franklin Graham claims that the IRS threatened to take away his organizations’ tax-exempt status for exercising free speech. Worse, he alleges that the IRS attacked Samaritan’s Purse, a charity that had nothing to do with the political ads, merely because it was associated with the Graham family.
If Graham’s allegations are true—and there’s no reason to believe they are not—it sounds as if the IRS was trying to intimidate the Grahams into staying out of politics by threatening their other activities.
Using the logic directed towards Graham, any church or religious group that made any sort of political statement could be targeted. A minister who made a sermon criticizing a specific government policy, such as abortion, the death penalty, or legalized gambling, on moral grounds could find his church and its programs audited. The IRS might go after charities associated with a church, such as a food bank, in an attempt to silence it.
Definite Pattern of Political Behavior at IRS
Franklin Graham’s allegations indicate a definite pattern of politically motivated behavior at the IRS. The agency targeted both political and non-political groups and threatened audits right before the presidential election. Its agents felt that they had a right to intimidate persons and organizations that espoused certain political beliefs.
The motivation for the intimidation is not as clear-cut as you might think. The agents may have targeting those that they disagreed with or might have thought they could score points with the administration by targeting its political foes.
Currently, there appears to be no evidence that any liberal groups were targeted, but at least one far left organization was. The radical animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (or PETA) is now claiming that it was targeted for audits on political grounds by the IRS three times. The last of those occurred in 2009 under the Obama administration.
PETA’s lawyer Jeffrey Kerr even told reporters that he believes the audits were motivated by politically influential special interests, including lobbyists for the meat, dairy, tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries that PETA has targeted in the past. Kerr’s allegations are especially bothersome because he said he believes the IRS targeted his organization largely because of pressure from members of Congress.
Kerr noted that the IRS found absolutely no wrongdoing during the audits. The 2009 audit was particularly questionable because the IRS had given PETA a clean bill of health in 2005, yet went after it again just a few years later.
Even though many of us dislike PETA’s beliefs, we should listen to Kerr’s allegations. If the IRS can go after PETA, they can go after any person or group that a congressman or senator hates. IRS officials who know that an influential member of Congress dislikes a certain organization might audit it.
The PETA allegations also show that the IRS’s targeting of political groups is not new and might be a well-established pattern of behavior. It also indicates a sort of mercenary attitude on the part of the IRS. Its agents target whoever or whatever group is not popular right now.
Worse, their behavior seems to be designed to win favor with powerful politicians. The agents appear to have been trying to do favors for Congress and the administration.
Is the IRS a Political Hit Squad?
The Internal Revenue Service seems to have degenerated into a sort of political police force designed to target individuals and groups for purely political and ideological reasons. Worse, this behavior is not new. The PETA allegations indicate that it’s been going for some time; it’s just gotten bolder in recent years.
Nor did IRS leaders see anything wrong with the pattern of behavior. Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller, who was just forced out, was aware of the targeting in May 2012. Miller apparently saw nothing wrong with the targeting and did nothing to stop it. In fact, Miller had once headed the IRS office that monitors tax exempt agencies.
Shades of Watergate
It is not clear if President Obama or anyone in the White House was aware of what was going on at the IRS, although recent administration comments indicate that they may have been aware of what was going on. If somebody in the White House was working with the IRS or directing it, we have a scandal that’s a lot like Watergate.
For those you of you haven’t seen All the President’s Men lately, that scandal occurred when Nixon used the “plumbers,” a squad of rogue CIA operatives, to illegally gather information about critics and political opponents. The plumbers targeted individuals and organizations on the president’s enemies list, which included such dangerous individuals as Steve McQueen, a Republican who had voted for the president. Sound familiar?
President Nixon claimed he knew nothing about the scandal, but when it was exposed, he was forced to resign. It was soon proven that Nixon and his aides were actually directing the activities of the plumbers.
Granted, it’s too early to tell if the White House was directing the IRS activities or not; however, it is clear that the IRS has been engaged in politically motivated investigations and audits designed to harass organizations for political reasons for some time. It isn’t clear how much the President and those around him knew.
This scandal is bigger than we suspected, and it’s going to have major repercussions. It’s still too early to tell if this is another Watergate or not. If it is, it could be the biggest political scandal of this generation. Hopefully, it’ll lead to real reform of the IRS and the tax system in the way that Watergate led to the reform of the political system and the intelligence community.