IRS Tea Party: Profiling the GOP Was Wrong

A lot of times we get so caught up in politics and partisan cheer-leading that we lose our ability to objectively admit when something is wrong. Targeting organizations for additional IRS scrutiny due to their suspected political affiliation is wrong.

The Internal Revenue Service apologized for what it acknowledged was inappropriate targeting of conservative political groups to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status during the 2012 election. IRS employees working in Cincinnati profiled groups for additional scrutiny if they had the words "Tea party" or "patriot" in their exemption applications words often used by conservative groups in their titles. In some cases, donor lists were requested of these groups, which is in most cases against IRS policy, and they were sent questionnaires seeking overly broad information. Between 2010 and 2012, a reported 75 groups were subject to this additional scrutiny; however, none of them were denied their tax-exempt status. 

These revelations have prompted outrage from across the political spectrum, especially Mitch McConnell, who called for a government-wide review of the situation. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney echoed the sentiments that these actions were wrong, and made a point that the IRS is an independent agency with only two political appointees. One of those appointed managers running it at the time was appointed by George W. Bush, suggesting no political motivation from any upper-level IRS management.

The response to this on the right in the near future will be nothing short of hyperbolic. After all, to the groups who have always been paranoid about government abusing its nonpartisan authority for partisan purposes, this in part confirms their fears. And who can blame them? Imagine if progressive groups had been profiled and subject to additional scrutiny from the IRS when a Republican administration was in power. The reaction from the left would likely have been similar, and understandably so.

Partisanship will in all likelihood poison this issue. No matter what the Obama administration's response is and no matter how thorough an investigation is launched, it will never be enough for Obama's political opponents. No matter how distant the administration, or even top levels of the IRS are from this incident, there will always be a connection in the minds of those who want to believe it. Some on the left who view the Tea Party with disdain will feel unsympathetic towards this issue, especially those who believe that the Tea Party is a subsidiary of shady campaign finance practices to begin with. In short, partisan talk radio will have a field day. This will become another clear-cut example of how partisanship prevents us from looking at things objectively.

Perhaps the greatest damage this does is it undermines the credibility of an independent government agency that has a very important function. Whatever our individual politics are, we should all be able to agree that the freedom to express our opinions and have our voices heard in elections is an element that must remain uncompromised if we are to remain true to our country's democratic principles, and if we are to truly have a government of, for, and by the people.