Beyond an apology

IRS targeting of conservative groups demands investigation

Defense attorneys like to talk about “the awesome power of the state” being brought to bear on their clients. And it’s true. The government has incredible power over individuals, and extensive resources with which to wield it.

Those of us indisposed to committing crimes feel that awesome power nonetheless – particularly at tax time. The IRS is the most feared and formidable government agency many of us will ever brush up against.

The thought of such a potent bureau having a nefarious agenda – political, for instance – truly is frightening. In another country, in another form of government, led by men of few scruples, such a power could be used to cripple perceived enemies.

So, the whiff of such a thing happening here is alarming – but is nonetheless in the air.

The IRS actually admitted last week that some of its agents last year illegally targeted conservative groups that were attempting to achieve official nonprofit status.

Dragging out the already interminable tax-exempt application process, the agents flagged some conservative groups to harass them with cumbersome questionnaires, extra reviews and added delays. The agency watched for title words such as “tea party” and “patriots” and singled out such groups for scrutiny.

Further – and frighteningly – “In some cases, (conservative) groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases,” the Associated Press reports.

Outrageous.

Again, the thought of using the awesome power of the IRS to torment someone because of his or her political beliefs is scary – and contrary to every notion of freedom this nation was founded upon.

To her great credit, Lois Lerner, chief of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, has acknowledged and even apologized for the offenses, which she said were carried out by low-level employees in Cincinnati.

“That was wrong,” the AP quoted her. “That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review.”

We appreciate her uncommon candor. And we certainly understand that, in a huge bureaucracy, there may be some rogue actors who act arbitrarily and contrary to rules and laws.

We do differ with her when she says the acts were not done with any political bias. That seems highly unlikely on its face.

We also would like a thorough investigation of this matter. How many agents did this? Have they been fired? Were they acting on orders from anyone else, either inside or outside the agency?

This is too serious an offense for an even sincere apology to suffice.

And there are political considerations, as well. If the goal, for instance, was to hamstring conservative groups prior to the election – well, sadly enough, mission accomplished.

In addition, this revelation only adds fuel to the conservative fire that burns with skepticism toward a government that also has seemed convinced in recent years that conservatives, rather than radical Muslims, are the chief terror threat in America. Homeland Security has put that fear in writing. And when radical Muslims bombed the Boston Marathon on April 15, liberals jumped to suggest it might’ve been a conservative tax-day attack – and key Obama adviser David Axelrod even hinted at it.

We appreciate the IRS leader’s extraordinary apology. We hope the agency will now engage in damage control – and a purge of unscrupulous partisans.

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