Standing the brouhaha on its head
May 15th, 2013
The media and our political leadership have it backwards, regarding the IRS/Tea Party scandal. Let me say at the outset that I stand second to no patriotic American in my fervent desire not to be treated by the jack-booted thugs of the IRS the way our representatives overseas treat borderland Afghanis suspected of favoring the Taliban. However, though it may indeed have been (to borrow words from among others our President) “disgusting” and “obnoxious” and “outrageous” for the Tea Party’s activist stalwarts to have to answer questionnaires, fill out forms, and wait months on end for bureaucratic action, just as if they were applying for long-term care Medicaid, fer crissakes, and my heart goes out to them, I believe that the real defalcation of morality and justice lies elsewhere. Congress imposed on the IRS the impossibly difficult and constitutionally suspect burden of distinguishing among forms of advocacy activity. I say “constitutionally suspect” because when you get right down to it, the differences largely turn on the content of speech. I hasten to add that the Supreme Court does not entirely agree with me. For some seriously contorted, otherworldly reasoning, of the sort for which the Court is so justly venerated, I refer you to Regan v. Taxation With Representation of Washington, 461 U.S. 540, 103 S.Ct. 1997, wherein 501(c)(4), the tax code provision in question, is not found to be problematic under the First Amendment. But I digress. Now, certain Congresspersons and others complain because the IRS, at a time of skyrocketing applications and much suspicion that 501(c)(4) tax exempt status was being abused, seems to have had a hard time figuring out where and how to draw these distinctions. And here we get to the hard indigestible little nubbin of filth that everybody seems to be ignoring. In what universe can the Tea Party accurately and truthfully be described as exclusively a social welfare organization only incidentally engaged in politics – which is what it takes to qualify under 501(c)(4)? Not the universe I live in, where there are climate change and endangered species and nobody has the power to walk through walls. Yet, if we are to believe the reporting, of some hundreds of Tea Party applications to receive tax exemption on this basis, only eight were denied. Hmm… If heads are to roll at the IRS, surely it should be for culpable laxity, not overzealousness?