The public should be frightened that Democrats have passed new legislation to weaponize the already abusive Internal Revenue Service.
For nearly a century, presidents and members of Congress have used the IRS to harass and incriminate political foes. In addition to collecting revenue to fund the government, the IRS is a hit squad that destroys reputations and criminalizes dissenters.
A lot of pain can be inflicted under the guise of tax “auditing.” The bill President Joe Biden signed Tuesday, erroneously labeled the Inflation Reduction Act, will mean more audits and investigations. The law roughly doubles funding for the IRS’s enforcement division, adding as many as 80,000 agents and auditors.
Biden, meanwhile, is starving the Defense Department, requesting too little funding to even keep up with inflation, despite Russian and Chinese aggression. Yet his legislation will make the IRS three-quarters the size of the Marine Corps. Who’s Biden making war on?
While the bill increases the IRS’s muscle, it fails to impose serious criminal penalties if the IRS leaks confidential taxpayer information or goes after political targets. History shows the danger ahead.
In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the IRS to harass newspaper publishers who opposed his New Deal and adversaries like Sen. Huey Long and Father Coughlin.
Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, the IRS gave FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover access to its files, allowing him to weaponize tax information against the National Council of Churches, the NAACP and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
President John Kennedy set up the Ideological Organizations Audit Project to target right-leaning groups including the American Enterprise Institute think tank and the John Birch Society.
President Richard Nixon’s counsel, John Dean, admitted the administration used “the existing federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” The IRS was Nixon’s weapon of choice. The articles of impeachment against Nixon included charges that he ordered “income tax audits or other income tax investigations” in “a discriminatory manner.”
President Bill Clinton’s administration sicced the IRS on accusers Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones.
President Barack Obama’s IRS targeted Tea Party groups and other conservative nonprofits leading up to the 2012 presidential election, delaying their tax-exempt status to keep them from raising money. That scandal blew open in 2013 when IRS official Lois Lerner admitted the targeting. Yet no charges were brought against Lerner or any other IRS official, and she retired with full benefits.
And the abuse continues. Biden’s IRS leaked confidential tax material from Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and other billionaires to a left-wing publication, ProPublica. Tax information is supposed to be kept confidential. We Americans have no choice but to provide it. But the IRS was playing footsie with left-wing media to help Democrats push their false claim that a tax crackdown is needed.
Don’t buy the rhetoric. Tax evasion is not a serious problem in America, as it is in many other nations. Americans deplore tax cheats, the polls show. The United States has one of the highest voluntary tax-compliance rates in the world, about 88%, far higher than in Western Europe.
It’s true the IRS needs funding to improve services to taxpayers — including getting phone calls answered and returns processed — and moving from antiquated paper files to modern technology. Yet the new law allocates a minuscule amount to those priorities and puts the lion’s share, more than $45 billion, into “enforcement,” including hiring and arming agents.
As much as 90% of the money raised through beefed-up audits will come from people making less than $200,000 a year, according to the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. Audits can bring a tsunami of government document demands and repeated visits from IRS agents over months or even years. Most people don’t have accountants and lawyers to insulate them from the pain.
Worst of all, history shows the agency’s magnified clout will be used to muzzle and punish political critics. That’s a serious blow to our freedom.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.