“What do you expect when you target the President?” This is what an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent allegedly said to the head of a conservative organization that was being audited after calling for the impeachment of then-President Clinton. Recent revelations that IRS agents gave “special scrutiny” to organizations opposed to the current administration’s policies suggest that many in the IRS still believe harassing the President’s opponents is part of their job.
As troubling as these recent reports are, it would be a grave mistake to think that IRS harassment of opponents of the incumbent President is a modern, or a partisan, phenomenon. As scholar Burton Folsom pointed out in his book New Deal or Raw Deal, IRS agents in the 1930s were essentially “hit squads” against opponents of the New Deal. It is well-known that the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson used the IRS to silence their critics. One of the articles of impeachment drawn up against Richard Nixon dealt with his use of the IRS to harass his political enemies. Allegations of IRS abuses were common during the Clinton administration, and just this week some of the current administration’s defenders recalled that antiwar and progressive groups alleged harassment by the IRS during the Bush presidency.
The bipartisan tradition of using the IRS as a tool to harass political opponents suggests that the problem is deeper than just a few “rogue” IRS agents – or even corruption within one, two, three or many administrations. Instead, the problem lays in the extraordinary power the tax system grants the IRS.
The IRS routinely obtains information about how we earn a living, what investments we make, what we spend on ourselves and our families, and even what charitable and religious organizations we support. Starting next year, the IRS will be collecting personally identifiable health insurance information in order to ensure we are complying with Obamacare’s mandates.
The current tax laws even give the IRS power to marginalize any educational, political, or even religious organizations whose goals, beliefs, and values are not favored by the current regime by denying those organizations “tax-free” status. This is the root of the latest scandal involving the IRS.
Considering the type of power the IRS excises over the American people, and the propensity of those who hold power to violate liberty, it is surprising we do not hear about more cases of politically-motivated IRS harassment. As the first U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall said, “The power to tax is the power to destroy” – and who better to destroy than one’s political enemies?
The United States flourished for over 120 years without an income tax, and our liberty and prosperity will only benefit from getting rid of the current tax system. The federal government will get along just fine without its immoral claim on the fruits of our labor, particularly if the elimination of federal income taxes are accompanied by serious reduction in all areas of spending, starting with the military spending beloved by so many who claim to be opponents of high taxes and big government.
While it is important for Congress to investigate the most recent scandal and ensure all involved are held accountable, we cannot pretend that the problem is a few bad actors. The very purpose of the IRS is to transfer wealth from one group to another while violating our liberties in the process. Thus the only way Congress can protect our freedoms is to repeal the income tax and shutter the doors of the IRS once and for all.
Ron Paul is a former U.S. Congressman from Texas and leader of the pro-free market movement in the United States.