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Using Tax Scrutiny To Chill Speech Is Intolerable

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The recently-revealed targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for additional tax scrutiny is outrageous and goes against the freedoms on which our nation was founded.  The federal government is supposed to work for the American people and help strengthen our nation, not tear down our freedoms from within.  That is why we must do everything we can to hold the IRS accountable for these inexcusable attempts to silence political dissent, and strong reforms must be implemented to ensure that these actions do not ever happen again.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's (TIGTA) audit of the IRS Exempt Organization Determinations office in Cincinnati, Ohio, released its report on May 14, 2013.  The audit showed the IRS was using terms such as "tea party" and "liberty" to discriminate against conservative groups for further scrutiny on 501(c)(4) applications.  At subsequent stages of the IRS activities, groups involved with "limiting government," "educating on the Constitution," and "social economic reform" were subject to similar treatment.  Based on the TIGTA report, these actions date back to at least early 2010.

Congress has initiated several formal investigations and oversight proceedings regarding this matter.  For example, the Senate Finance Committee recently held a hearing with Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, TIGTA J. Russell George and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.  During my questioning of the officials, it was discovered the TIGTA will be expanding the investigation to identify the source of the targeting policy.  Separately, several congressional panels have launched independent investigations into the matter.  More questions need to be answered, those involved must be held accountable and this practice must be eliminated. 

Additionally, I, along with several of my colleagues, wrote the President expressing our grave concerns and deep disappointment about the revelations in the TIGTA report.  Our letter highlights the danger posed by using government resources to curb Constitutional liberties:

We are deeply disturbed that agents of the government were directed to give greater scrutiny to groups engaged in conduct questioning the actions of their government.  This type of purely political scrutiny being conducted by an Executive Branch Agency is yet another completely inexcusable attempt to chill the speech of political opponents and those who would question their government, consistent with a broader pattern of intimidation by arms of the administration to silence political dissent. 

Congress must exercise thorough oversight of the inappropriate actions taken by the IRS.  More answers are needed to fully realize the scope of these troubling IRS activities.  Discrimination by government agents in any way must not be tolerated.  The Inspector General made some recommendations to address this issue.  While I support the quick implementation of the Inspector General's recommendations, I view them as simply the beginning.  Additional, substantive reforms need to be developed and implemented to ensure that future income tax audits are not conducted in a discriminatory manner.  I will continue to press for answers, accountability and actions to ensure this intolerable practice does not resurface.

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