— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 17 May 2013, was last revised on 28 April 2014. © Govinthenews Vol. 4:5(2).
As an American businessman who has been running small business enterprises for almost 60 years (I got my start selling papers at age eleven, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, in 1954), I know how tough the Internal Revenue Service can be on business owners. It has to be, to incentivize us to walk the straight and narrow. I get that.
What I don’t get is that the IRS has any right whatsoever to overstep its bounds and pounce on a business for political purposes. That’s what totalitarian governments do. Not ours. Yet, from the testimony presented to Congress at hearings conducted by the House Ways and Means Committee on 17 May 2013, that’s exactly what our Internal Revenue Service has been doing since 2010.
Worse, the acting commissioner of the IRS, Steven Miller, a man who was employed by the IRS throughout that period, behaved with outrageous arrogance before his congressional questioners. He refused to answer questions regarding the identities of IRS employees and others, and insisted on rewording questions that used the words “targeted” or “targeting,” despite the fact that the Inspector General’s Report used those exact words to describe IRS actions.
Mr. Miller’s actions as IRS Commissioner should be investigated thoroughly, and if criminal wrong-doing is uncovered, he should be charged, tried, and if convicted sentenced appropriately. “Appropriately” in this context means, by the way, different things for different officials committing different crimes. No government official is above the law, but if that is true for ordinary government officials, it should be triply true of those within the Internal Revenue Service, if for no other reason because the IRS wields its power ruthlessly, and thus should be held to an extraordinarily high standard. I watched those proceedings with my own eyes. I listened with my own ears. When people entrusted to uphold the U.S. Constitution behave the way Mr. Miller behaved before Congress today, they should be called out and publicly castigated for their behavior.
But why would Mr. Miller be so arrogant? Might he have received assurances from on high, assurances that — no matter what — he needn’t worry about how his words might someday be used against him? That’s the only thing that makes sense to me at the moment. Nobody would be that arrogant before Congress unless they knew, without any doubt, that somebody higher up the chain of command was prepared to protect them from the long arm of the law. So, who has his back?
Who gave Mr. Miller those assurances? No matter who they happen to be, they too need to be charged and delivered to the mercy of the courts.
Those who applaud Mr. Miller and his kind for “standing up to Congress,” refusing to answer questions about the conduct of the IRS, and — in particular — for making life miserable for honest business owners and business groups who applied for tax-exempt status at the IRS during the period from 2010-2013, are making a big mistake. Mistreatment of business owners by the IRS may warm the cockles of some hearts, because some foolishly want to see honest business owners squirm. But what goes around comes around, which is to say, whatever the IRS is able to do today to one group of Americans can — on another day, perhaps tomorrow — also do to another group.
That has to stop. We’re moving, as of today, in that direction, thankfully. No thanks to Steven Miller…
Update: Since the hearing on 17 May a number of other hearings have been conducted, exposing a culture of corruption and arrogance within the IRS of a scope heretofore unimagined. One could easily gather, from the evidence presented thus far, that the agency is riddled with corruption from the lowest to the highest levels.
The obvious solution is to revamp the IRS, or replace it entirely with a new, modern, more efficient and less bureaucratic organization and mission. It is a big challenge, but one that must be addressed.
Regarding the question of whether “rogue” IRS employees in the Cincinnati office were alone responsible for the targeting of certain organizations applying for tax-exempt status, it must be admitted that such a possibility does exist, however small it may be. An article from the Cincinnati Observer, published in USA Today, asserted that a “perfect storm” of lax oversight, combined with new, inexperienced employees and retirement of older staffers who would have known better than allow such shenanigans, set the stage for what happened.