FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Decades of Political Tyranny at the IRS

President Barack Obama got it right and wrong Monday when he stated, “If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.”

He was right in declaring it was “outrageous” for the IRS to target conservative organizations for tough tax treatment. But he was incorrect in saying “it is contrary to our traditions.”

For the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has for decades gone after organizations and individuals that take stands in conflict with the federal government at the time. This has been a tradition, an outrageous tradition.

It is exposed in detail by David Burnham, longtime New York Times investigative reporter, in his 1991 book A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power. He relates how President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely “set the stage for the use of the tax agency for political purposes by most subsequent presidents.” Burnham writes about how a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, banker Andrew Mellon, was a special IRS target under FDR. During the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, he recounts, the focus of the IRS’s efforts “at political control” were civil rights organizations and those against the U.S. engaging in the Vietnam War. Nixon’s “enemies list” and his scheme to use the IRS against those on it is what the current IRS scandal is being most compared.

History Professor John A. Andrew III in his 2002 book Power to Destroy: The Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon—its title drawn from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall’s  dictum “The power to tax is the power to destroy”—focuses further on this tradition. He tells of how John F. Kennedy administration’s “Ideological Organizations Project” investigated, intimidated and challenged the tax-exempt status of right-wing groups including the John Birch Society. Then, with a turn of the White House to the right with Nixon came investigations, he writes, of such entities as the Jerry Rubin Foundation, the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Center for Corporate Responsibility.

During the Reagan administration, I had my own experience with the IRS—ostensibly

because of a book I wrote. Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam? involved reporting from what was then a war zone in Nicaragua and in Florida—where I interviewed leaders of the contras who were working with the CIA to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government—and Honduras, being set up as a tarmac for U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. I visited a U.S. military base there. The book warned against a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua (subsequently decided against by the Reagan White House after the Iran-contra scandal). The book was published in 1985 and soon afterwards I was hit with an IRS audit. It would be more, I was informed, than my showing up at an IRS office. The IRS was to come to my house for a “field audit.”

The investigator sat on one side of our dining room table and on the other side was me and my accountant, Peter Berger of Shelter Island. What would be an all-day event started with the investigator asking me to detail how much my family spent on food each week and then, slowly, methodically, going through other expenses. Then he went through income. He obviously was seeking to determine on this fishing expedition whether income exceeded expenses. He went through receipts for business expenses including restaurant receipts, asking who I ate with. He sorted through receipts for office supplies. By mid-afternoon, he had gotten nowhere. At that point, having been hours together, a somewhat weird relationship had been formed. And he began to tell me how his dream in college was to become a journalist. He expanded on that, and then asked: “Have you ever faced retaliation?”

“What do you think this is?” I responded.

He was taken back—insisting my name had come up “at random.”

In the end, all he did was trim some of what was listed as business use of my home phone.

Was I being retaliated against for the book I had written?  One would never know. Recently, I ran into accountant Berger, now retired, and he commented about how that day at my house was the strangest IRS audit he had ever been involved in.

The IRS has been beyond reform. Burnham writes in A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power that a “political imperative of not messing with the IRS” has become “close to being a law of nature almost as unbending as the force of gravity.”  It is “rarely examined by Congress.”

President Obama announced yesterday that the acting commissioner of the IRS was asked and agreed to tender his resignation as a result of the scandal. That’s a small start. Far more important is somehow ending the tradition of IRS political tyranny. Fundamental change in the IRS is called for.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

 

More articles by:

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
Jessicah Pierre
A Revolutionary Idea to Close the Racial Wealth Divide
George Burchett
Revolutionary Journalism
Dan Bacher
U.S. Senate Confirms Oil Lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary
Nicky Reid
The Strange Success of Russiagate
Chris Gilbert
Defending Venezuela: Two Approaches
Todd Larsen
The Planetary Cost of Amazon’s Convenience
Kelly Martin
How the White House is Spinning Earth Day
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba and Venezuela: Killing Two Birds With a Stone
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Guadalcanal and Bloody Ridge, Solomon Islands
David Kattenburg
Trudeau’s Long Winter
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Ellen Lindeen
What Does it Mean to Teach Peace?
Adewale Maye and Eileen Appelbaum
Paid Family and Medical Leave: a Bargain Even Low-Wage Workers Can Afford
Ramzy Baroud
War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We
Ann Garrison
Vets for Peace to Barbara Lee: Support Manning and Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Mueller Report Changed my Mind on Term Limits
Jill Richardson
Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t
Mallika Khanna
The Greenwashing of Earth Day
Arshad Khan
Do the Harmless Pangolins Have to Become Extinct?
Paul Armentano
Pushing Marijuana Legalization Across the Finish Line
B. R. Gowani
Surreal Realities: Pelosi, Maneka Gandhi, Pompeo, Trump
Paul Buhle
Using the Law to Build a Socialist Society
David Yearsley
Call Saul
Elliot Sperber
Ecology Over Economy 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail