Taxes and politics

Taxes and politics
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Foto: authors

In the controversy about the actions of the IRS, the reasonable investigation of political groups that inappropriately requested special tax treatment must not be confused with the political persecution of conservative groups.

The category of 501(c)(4) nonprofits exempts from taxes those organizations whose priority is the “common good and general welfare of the people,” excluding them from political participation. It is the IRS’s job to verify that this is true by asking questions and requesting documentation.

Numerous political organizations, both Democratic and Republican, that came about during the 2010 and 2012 elections were interested in obtaining this designation that allows them not to reveal the names of their donors. The majority of them were conservative organizations aligned with the Tea Party.

Therefore, IRS officials, showing poor judgment, used the names “patriot” and “Tea Party” to easily recognize them, adding a political character to what should be apolitical. In reality, the IRS acted not only against Republicans, as critics claim. Instead, for example, Democratic organization Emerge America received a serious warning and was forced to change its desired tax category.

However, the latest presidential election left behind the impression of an out-of-control IRS, unable to oversee organizations that improperly spent millions of dollars promoting political candidates.

No other government office is more hated than the IRS; this helps depict it as an agency that is out of hand, or much worse, fulfilling a partisan function. The situation brings to mind former President Richard Nixon, who did try to use the IRS to persecute his political enemies. But that cannot at all be compared to what is happening now.

What happened in this case must be addressed and those responsible for the poor decisions at the IRS must be punished. On the other hand, calling for the elimination of the IRS, like Senator Ted Cruz did, and attacking the White House, like Congressman Darrell Issa did, are attempts to earn cheap political brownie points instead of looking for a solution.

We are convinced that oversight of the IRS must continue and be improved upon. It is necessary to prevent organizations that are doing politics with their money from getting tax-exempt status, a benefit reserved for organizations that seek the “general welfare,” no matter the political party or the candidate.