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Rich: IRS Tea Party Scrutiny No “Random Error”

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Just when it appeared Washington, D.C. had become impervious to a full-blown political scandal, along comes a seismic revelation jarring Americans of all ideological moorings – one that’s placed one of the most feared (and fastest-growing) “independent” government agencies squarely on the hot seat.

Last week’s startling acknowledgement by senior staff at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the agency’s discriminatory practices against limited government groups is indeed “chilling” and “thuggish,” as a pair of moderate U.S. Senators have suggested. But it’s much more than that. In fact it’s unlikely our nation’s capital has seen anything this sinister since Richard Nixon and his infamous “Enemies List” – and we can only hope the ensuing cacophony of revulsion is just the beginning of a sustained movement to expose similar overreaches across our Orwellian federal government.

What do we know so far? During a question and answer session last week following an American Bar Association seminar, IRS tax-exempt chief Lois Lerner acknowledged “line people” in Cincinnati, Ohio had “used names like Tea Party or Patriots” as criteria for selecting tax-exempt applications for further scrutiny.

Of course this stunning confession – galling enough on its own merit – was incomplete and misleading. For starters, the IRS’ Cincinnati office is the central location for all tax-exempt application evaluations – meaning the discrimination that took place there “wasn’t an isolated, dumb incident by some random field office,” as The Washington Post conciselynoted. In other words this was no error: It was official policy – which directly contradicts testimony previously provided by the agency’s leadership to Congressional investigators.

Not only that, the discrimination against limited government supporters was much broader than the agency acknowledged. According to a forthcoming investigative report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) – advance excerpts of which were obtained by Reuters – the IRS also targeted groups which addressed “Government spending, Government debt, or taxes; Education of the public via advocacy/ lobbying to ‘make America a better place to live;’ and Statements … (that) criticize how the country is being run.”

Furthermore, agency leadership was made aware of the discrimination nearly two years ago and said nothing – and clearly had no plans to alert the public to what happened. Additionally there was no internal accountability for the discriminatory practices – and the agency’s belated response appears to have been to apply the same scrutiny to a broader network of politically active organizations, as if additional “wrongs” might somehow make things “right.”

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Howard Rich is chairman of Americans for Limited Government. He is also a syndicated columnist for Liberty Features.

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