Monday, July 23 , 2018, 3:20 am | Fair 68º


David Harsanyi: Get the IRS Out of Speech Business

So, the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups (or, more precisely, groups displaying a bit too much gusto for limited government) was far more widespread than its initial apology would have led Americans to imagine.

Yes, it is disturbing — a dangerous abuse of power, no doubt. What’s more disturbing — or should be, at least — is the fact that the IRS has the capacity to undermine free speech in the first place. Despite President Barack Obama’s assurances, there are no safeguards that can be put into place to stop abuses of power.

The IRS doesn’t just collect taxes. It also enforces speech codes. Americans assembling to gripe about Washington should not have to petition Washington for the right to do so. Yet Democrats (and Republicans such as John McCain) have, for a long time, advocated deputizing the IRS with deep and wide-ranging powers over free speech.

Some liberals have argued that it’s reasonable for the IRS to pay special attention to the flood of Tea Party groups asking for 501(c)(4) applications (even though similarly motivated left-wing groups experienced little problems doing the same). In a 2012 editorial, in fact, The New York Times’ editorial board praised the IRS for targeting Tea Party groups because they did not “primarily” engage in “social welfare,” the designation used to merit tax exemption under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.

I suppose I would argue that any organization advocating unfettered free markets is advocating social welfare. Somehow I assume The New York Times has other ideas about the world. The real mystery is why the IRS should have any opinion on the matter at all.

Washington already knows that the 501(c) designations are a joke, as those involved rhetorically tiptoe around any exceptionally partisan phrases. But to engage in a concerted political effort doesn’t pivot on the need for direct communication when, intuitively speaking, everyone knows what to do.

Example: It’s not as if the Obama administration sends The New York Times’ editorial board talking points, yet The New York Times’ editorial board always seems to get it just right.

Why have so many on the left been defensive? Well, politics, of course. But there are other reasons. Just listen to the left treat tax-exempt status as a privilege bestowed by government. Taxes have morphed from a societal obligation into moral code. And our convoluted tax structure reflects this mindset, allowing politicians to favor trade and offer populist giveaways to solidify political power. Any simplification or flattening of that code would strip Washington of its most effective tool.

Any attack on the credibility of the IRS matters because soon enough, it will be forcing us to buy things, as well as regulating speech. Obamacare’s unprecedented expansion tasks the IRS as dispenser of the “penalty” coercing Americans to partake in a collective health insurance scheme — and discerning the intent of more than 40 new taxes, to boot. This will be handled by the same fine organization that was recently hit with a class-action suit alleging it improperly accessed and stole the health records of some 10 million Americans — some 60 million medical records, including psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual/drug treatment and other medical treatment data.

Yes, reasonable people understand that government isn’t systematically trying to find out what they had for breakfast or what they watch on TV. That would be as paranoid as believing that the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers have the power to control millions of voters. But rational people understand that abuse happens. If you’re worried about the government invading your privacy, there is no agency with more means to do it than the IRS.

So though this is a fine time to push the politics of scandal — because occasionally, politics is substantive — it would be more constructive for the GOP to push for tax and IRS reform.

David Harsanyi is a columnist and senior reporter at Human Events. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @davidharsanyi, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >