Targeting Political Opponents Through Taxation

The wonderful thing about government regulations is that they’re so versatile. Most people think of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as merely a government agency that collects taxes. However to an extremely devious, and somewhat creative, fellow the IRS can become a club to wield against your political opponent, which is what the so-called progressives did:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday.

Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups.

In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

I don’t have a horse in this race beyond explaining how the IRS can be used as a political tool beyond tax collecting. My beliefs generally oppose the beliefs shared by organizations with the word “patriot” or phrase “tea party” in their title. However it is worth noting, regardless of your political orientation, how the state can prevent certain messages from spreading without resorting to direct censorship. By using tax laws the IRS was able to harass specific political organizations. Such harassment sends a very clear message: if you don’t subscribe to the dominate state-held political beliefs you can either keep your mouth shut or your life will be made miserable.

What’s even more interesting is that the IRS claims the harassment was initiated by a low-level employee:

Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice. She did not say when they found out.

In all likelihood the low-level employee received orders from higher up and is now being used as a scapegoat. If that isn’t the case then the IRS just admitted that they have no real oversight and that even low-level employees can wield the agency’s power against specific targets. The implications of this are frightening. Imagine a low-level IRS employee sending the agency to harass an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend because the breakup wasn’t amicable. Suddenly vicious revenge is as simple as getting a job at the IRS.

Tax codes are just as useful for dealing with political opponents as outright censorship or passing laws for the specific purpose of targeting those opponents. Al Capone was taken down by wielding tax code because the state didn’t have enough evidence to charge him with anything else.

The power to tax is the power to suppress.