A Solution For The IRS Scandal
06/06/2013 - 09:48
Douglas Bloomfield

If you think Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are a bunch of well-meaning humanitarians running social welfare agencies then you don't understand the real IRS scandal.  It's not just a question of whether workers at the Cincinnati office were singling out some applications for political reasons or carefully vetting all suspicious applicants for 501(c)(4) tax exemptions. 

This is not a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives use and abuse the 501(c)(4) status equally and share responsibility for the present mess.

What is needed is for Congress and the IRS to rewrite the rules to make sure social welfare groups really do engage in social welfare, but until that happens, there is a clear and simple solution to the problem of mystery money and manipulation: Sunshine.

These organizations raise millions from unknown donors, mostly very wealthy people and corporations that want to conceal their identity, and there is virtually no control on how they spend their money.  The best antidote to this pattern of deception and abuse is full exposure.

An official of a leading national Jewish organization I spoke to had a typical reason for opposing disclosure. “I don’t want my donor list open to poaching by others, and my donors don’t want it, either.”

That is understandable, but there is an overriding public interest in full disclosure. The public has not only a right but also a need to know who is paying, how much and how it is spent to shape public policy. If sunshine discourages some of the more secretive players who may be ashamed of what they’re doing or don’t want anyone to know what they’re up to, all the better.

Tom Dine, the former executive director of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the biggest, most influential and best funded 501(c)(4)s, said, “It would not have hurt AIPAC if it had to go public with full disclosure of contributors and their amounts. No harm is going to be done by letting the sun shine in.”

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It's not just a question of abusing the tax exempt status, it is the fact that our current government has embarked on a campaign to scrutinize those who disagree with their politics in a "McCarthy-era" manner. Many Americans abuse tax laws, this scandal goes beyond Rove and Koch, it is the fact that our government had the chutzpah to target those based on political beliefs and tried to blame it in some clerks!

It should be the donors who determine whether their contributions are disclosed. The IRS should only determine if the charity itself is spending money or carrying out activities that comport with the law. Permitting donors to remain anonymous enables unpopular charities or causes to raise funds without their donors being subject to harassment or potential acts of retribution. It also protects the privacy of donors who simply wish to remain private. Not coincidentally, this also why we have secret ballots.

“Sunshine” and full disclosure of the identity of donors, as Mr. Bloomfield proposes, interferes with individual freedoms and rights to privacy. Allowing and protecting dissenting voices wishing to participate in the discourse that shapes public policy is one of the great protections of our political system. History has demonstrated that it ultimately shelters our citizens from political overreach emanating from the right and the left.

The IRS did NOT "target" conservative groups - they focused on groups applying for tax-exempt 501-c-4 status - most of which were right-wing groups trying to improperly use tax-exempt donations from anonymous donors to illegally influence elections. No one has a right to tax-exempt status - the IRS, which is perennially starved for operating funds by the same right-wing extremists in Congress now decrying them - has to examine every applicant. If more right-wing groups apply than left-wing groups, which is what happened after the Supreme Court's loathsome Citizens United decision, then the IRS has no choice but to examine them. The real scandal is that the right wing hates the very existence of the IRS and will seize any imaginable pretext to attack it.

Like many others on the political left, Bloomfield is obfuscating and confusing the issues in the IRS scandal in order to protect Obama. The fundamental problem with the IRS was that they identified conservative political groups applying for the 501(c)(4)s tax exemption and then made it more difficult for them to get approval or simply denied them. That was smack in the middle of a heated campaign for the President of the US. Not surprisingly, conservative political groups were, therefore, less effective than some observers expected. That is dictatorship/police-state tactics which we saw in the Soviet UNion: it is not American. The IRS should not act in a politicized manner. They should follow the law as written by Congress. Lois Lerner has already taken the 5th. Bloomfield is spinning faster than a dreidel on Chanukah if he argues that this is a minor infraction conducted by low-level employees in Cincinnati. Low- level employees don't call in the FBI and the ATF. Sorry Doug.