Alaska Editorial: IRS must stay out of partisan politics

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Americans need to know their IRS inflicts pain fairly

Americans will never love the Internal Revenue Service. But we need to be able to trust the outfit to deal a straight hand to all players.

Clearly that wasn’t the case when some IRS officials decided that groups with “tea party” or “Patriot” in their names would get special scrutiny — and possibly the slow roll — when seeking tax-exempt status under the law.

This is at the least a big embarrassment to the Obama administration and Democrats, and a political gift to Republicans.

Political fallout may have a long reach, but the need to stop such an abuse of power cuts across party lines. John Marshall’s oft-quoted maxim, “The power to tax involves the power to destroy,” has many corollaries, including “the power to delay or audit is the power to deny or hobble.”

That’s a power that any government must apply within the law, with no favor for supporters and no prejudice against opponents. Naive? No, essential to good government and the trust on which representative democracy depends.

Every organization that applies for tax-exempt status should have to jump through the same hoops and get the same treatment as every other organization. Meet the criteria, you qualify; fail to meet the criteria, you don’t. It should not matter where you live on the political or ideological spectrum. (The whole business of tax-exempt status for some nonprofits should be on the table in tax reform, but that’s a different subject.)

The FBI is on the case. Recent reports say that the special attention to tea partiers wasn’t limited to the field office in Cincinnati, but involved Washington, D.C., officials as well.

Those responsible need to answer for their actions — prosecuted if they’ve broken laws, fired if they’ve broken trust. With no love lost between taxpayers and tax collectors, the IRS must maintain its reputation as an equal opportunity affliction.

BOTTOM LINE: IRS should never become an instrument of partisan politics.

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