Why Everyone Should Care About the IRS Targeting Conservative Groups

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”  –Martin Niemöller

Game, set, match… right?  Brevity is the key to good communication; you made your point, here’s a reference to Godwin’s Law?

Well, if it’s true that “The constitution stops where the Internal Revenue Code begins”, I think it’s worth examining why this is such an egregious violation of public trust.  So, with that in mind, let’s dive into why it’s so worrying that the IRS can (and will) target based on ideology… no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

Let’s Back Up – What Did the IRS Do?

In a nutshell, the IRS recently issued an apology for unfairly targeting 501(c)(4) organizations which were formed with the words “Tea Party”, “Patriot” or “9/12” in their names.  All of those phrases and words are overt or not-so-overt references to the Tea Party movement (generally a conservative movement) which gained prominence before the midterm elections in 2010.  Apparently all of this was directed by a field office in Cincinatti (As I went to press the story is changing… D.C. might have been involved).  Anyway, when the higher-ups got word, they apparently said to knock it off.

Did it stop?  Well, no – it got more sophisticated.  Instead of targeting groups based on words in their titles, they started targeting groups based on their objectives.  The objectives they targeted now were “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement” (according to the soon to be released audit).  If you drew a Venn Diagram of groups wanting to limit Government growth and groups with ‘Tea Party’ in the title?  You’d have a circle.  That’s right – instead of knocking it off, they doubled down and made their targeting more sophisticated.

And why issue this apology now, more than 2 years after the policy started and 2 years after authorities at the IRS knew about it?  Well, because of the aforementioned audit.  Once it became obvious what the contents of the audit would be … well, an apology is better late than never.

The Political Response

Predictably, responses to the scandal have divided based on the source’s position on the right/left political spectrum.  From what I can seen, the major argument on the left is that 501(c)(4)s are being abused, so it’s too bad this will now hamper enforcement (see an example of the genre below).  It’s a nice dodge, but it doesn’t excuse the lack of targeting of groups associated with, say, Occupy Wall Street.  On the right?  Well, the IRS is being targeted, but also President Obama.  While IRS related scandals do smack of Nixon, and it’s true that Harry Truman established the buck stops at the President’s desk – I still think it’s premature and unfair.  The President was a little late in the news cycle with his outrage (Monday) at the IRS, but I won’t fault him for not commenting on a fluid situation until the weekend clarified things.  Another thing – the director of the IRS at the time, of course, was appointed by former President George Bush (43).  Hopefully (well, it’s a weird thing to hope for…) it stops at the field office in Cincinnati, but it’ll soon be borne out.


  1. freeby50 says

    From what I’ve seen politicians from both sides of the aisle have condemned the IRS for this. I haven’t seen anyone of importance saying this is “OK”. Which is good and how it should be. THis behavior is clearly not OK.

  2. freeby50 says

    BTW, I don’t see how the IRS is going to get access to “medical data” past a generic tax reporting form that says how much your insurance costs and if you’re covered. That is not “medical data” that they can do anything with. Your doctor isn’t faxing your medical records to the local IRS agent.

    • says

      I haven’t seen too much press lately, but from what I heard of the database being created for the exchanges, it’s run by the Department of Health and Human Services. The IRS has access, as does Treasury and DHS. USA Today recently ran an Op-Ed piece (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2012/12/06/column-potential-obamacare-privacy-nightmare/1752211/), but here’s the document they were talking about: http://www.cchfreedom.org/files/files/HIX%20HHS%20-%20Hub%20Statement%20of%20Work%20RFP%20HIX%20Federal%20.pdf (Relevant section: 2.1.2)

      Also, there’s nothing really stopping rogue employees now (allegedly, since this was filed today):


      • freeby50 says

        I don’t see anything there that says the IRS will be given anyones medical records. THeres no need for the exchanges to collect much of any medical information and no reason to give records to the IRS.

        yes individual IRS employees can break the law. So can individual medical providers or employees at your insurance company. People have access to records and we have to police they don’t abuse that access.

        I’m not really sure what the IRS would do with someones medical records anyway. Other than the general invasion of privacy and security problems what do you think is the worry?

        • says

          1) I hope you’re right, but I’m only telling you what I’m reading. I’m reading things like this now, not just USA Today Op-Eds: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/03/07/2013-05266/advancing-interoperability-and-health-information-exchange (search ‘Affordable Care Act’; ‘Personal Health Information’ being the relevant term.)

          2) The “general invasion of privacy and security problems” ARE the worry; I would not minimize those in the least. Yes, private companies can do crappy things. However, I can’t ignore the IRS, or even switch to a new IRS. In fact, if I tried, I’m sure it would be pretty tough to leave the country. (For the record, I have fully paid my taxes, haha)

          I’m going to do a whole article defending privacy, but for now I would say a good example would be the legal concept of Chilling Effects: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilling_effect_%28law%29 Legal threats alone can chill constitutionally protected speech – policy or political, whistle-blowers, victims, etc.

          • freeby50 says

            OK I understand it as a privacy concern. I’m sure people don’t want IRS employees snooping through their medical records. But I honestly don’t see any reason to worry or be concerned with this.

            What about your health records would anyone in the IRS care about and what would they do with it??

            I am personally generally not that concerned with privacy. Thats just me though and I know privacy invasion bothers most people a lot more than me.


  1. […] Why Everyone Should Care About the IRS Targeting Conservative Groups – There’s a lot about this (for lack of a better word) scandal in the news lately, but this article on Don’t Quit Your Day Job is one of the most balanced and least hysterical I’ve seen. […]