In the current flap about apparent targeting, by the Internal Revenue Service, of conservative groups — petitions for tax-exempt status from “progressive” applicants seem to have sailed through relatively quickly, while there was a twenty-seven-month hiatus on approval of comparable applications from organizations of similar size if their names included terms like Tea Party, 9-12, Constitution, and Patriot; conservative organizations were subject to intrusive questions about what they were reading, who their donors were, whether any of their members had any ambitions to hold even local political office, etc. — it’s probably worth remembering the earlier case of Frank VanderSloot, a private citizen, a resident of Idaho Falls, and a Latter-day Saint, who seems to have been illegitimately harassed by the IRS and others (and was certainly singled out by the White House) for his political views.
Now, how am I involved in this? I’m not, actually. But I know Frank and Belinda VanderSloot slightly, having (among other things) stayed in their home a number of years ago when I spoke at, and they hosted, a fundraising event there for Brigham Young University.
But I myself have some ongoing personal experience with the IRS’s application process, since, after a small group of us launched The Interpreter Foundation at the very end of July last year, it eventually fell to my wife and me, aided by the kindness of an attorney friend, to prepare and file the Foundation’s petition for tax-exempt status. The process is rather complex, confusing, time-consuming, and exasperating, and we’re still waiting for what we anticipate will be a successful outcome. (It’s a good thing that we didn’t include anything like Patriot or Constitution in the name of our organization!) Heretofore, the sense has been that the IRS has been taking, on average, about a year to respond to such petitions, but now, with the scandal, I suppose that the waiting time could either become considerably longer or — let us pray! — that the IRS could begin to expedite things a bit in an attempt to atone for its sins. (I’m joking on this last one, I’m afraid.)
Anyway, this personal experience has made me much more sensitive to the plight of newly-formed charitable organizations than I would otherwise have been, and particularly to the difficult position that the already ponderous and, now, perhaps partisan IRS approval process put these conservative groups into: At the very beginning of their existence, when they’re still small and weak and most desperately in need of funding, charitable organizations are severely handicapped, virtually prevented, from serious fundraising. It’s a miracle that such groups survive at all. And, the slower the IRS wheels turn and the longer the application process lasts, the more likely it is that new little organizations will fail, that their idealistic founders will simply throw in the towel and give up. (Perhaps that was the point, in some partisan IRS-related minds?) We at Interpreter have been very fortunate, in that many people have stepped forward to help us from the very beginning, even back before we had even asked, and many are still contributing despite the fact that we’re not in active fundraising mode. I’m grateful beyond words for such generosity.
But back to my current jeremiad of persecution:
Just a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Obama was advising graduating college seniors not to mistrust government — despite the fact that, in my view, mistrust or even fear of government lies at the very root of American history and of what makes this country free. (That’s why, for example, we have a Bill of Rights.) And there’s no question that sophisticates on the political Left tend to roll their eyes when simpleminded yahoos such as myself express our doubts about the notion that the motives of progressive politicians and bureaucrats are naturally more pristine than those of corporate executives, let alone when we become nervous about government overreach. But, surely, whatever the facts turn out to be in this IRS scandal, it justifies reservations about expansive government power. And if, as seems highly possible (at least), it’s eventually demonstrated that there were ideological drivers behind the selective targeting of conservative groups, that will meet the very definition of the word tyranny.
Just this morning, I watched during the congressional hearing on the IRS scandal as Representative Kevin Brady of Texas told of a businesswoman who, after petitioning the IRS for tax exempt status on behalf of a Tea Party group, was audited by the IRS and — I’m going from memory; I was shaving at the time — then investigated by the Department of Labor, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (She had never so much as been audited before in her life.) She was subjected to all manner of political questions, and her application languished, and may still be languishing. That may all be pure coincidence, of course. But coincidence doesn’t seem likely. Nor does it in this case. “Is this America?” asked Congressman Brady.
Finally, this isn’t merely about Barack Obama and a particular highly partisan, ideologically leftist presidential administration. It may or may not be the case, in the end, that orders to target political opponents came from the White House or from high-ranking officials at Treasury. (Such orders need not have been explicit, by the way, in order to be damnable: Henry II didn’t expressly order the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170; the king is reputed only to have said something along the lines of “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” But four of his knights — Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton — took his remark as authorization for an assassination, and they acted accordingly.) It’s really, more fundamentally, about government power in general. Power will always be subject to abuse. People who want to exercise power over others will always gravitate to centers of power. And, the more power that is concentrated in the government, the more the government will be able to abuse power, and the more zealously abusive people will seek to control the government. (For a directly relevant historical example, see here.) Perhaps worse still, the very existence of such power will prove an insuperable temptation to people who might otherwise have remained uncorrupted. As Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The current plan, rather unbelievably, is to expand the Internal Revenue Service yet further — and by a large increment — and to entrust much of the regulation and management of Obamacare to its reliable and never-intrusive hands. The lesson should rather be, I think, that the government should have considerably less power than it currently enjoys.
And I hope that expressing that sentiment won’t draw down upon me and upon organizations that I care deeply about the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.