The IRS in Profiles of Patriotic Tea: What does it mean for today and tomorrow?

The IRS targeted specific groups and flagged them for additional scrutiny.  Pick your favorite and least favorite news source, and I’m confident that you will find stories either to your political liking or disgust.

I’m in no special position where I can refute or prove any of the claims being made.  Chances are that many of the claims will be found true with substantial evidence, others will most likely be true but the belief will rest upon circumstantial evidence, others will be alleged with no evidence, and sadly too many claims, suspicions, or things not of common knowledge will be ignored completely.

Regardless of one’s political ideology, I think everyone will learn something from these events.  Unfortunately, much of these “revelations” of knowledge will be disregarded as they do not assist with the political rhetoric and partisan talking points which are sure to dominate more than actual events.

The first is so simple that too many people will sadly overlook.  Profiling and stereotyping are apparently acceptable as long as your group is the one conducting the profiling and stereotyping.  You may find these comparisons to be apples to oranges and in some ways I would agree, but in principle and the methodology employed they are similar.  We can take any real or perceived grouping.  Race, religion, gender, age, preference, ideology, and so on, and too many try to justify the extra regulations or constraints placed on another while deploring and yelling discrimination when the roles are reversed.  Granted it’s not easy to view things from the perspective of the other side or to walk “in their shoes,” but it is necessary for understanding and appreciation.  Even with the blood, sweat, and tears spilled by previous generations and our awareness of such struggles, today our actions may be different but we cannot seem to eradicate that ignorant and stubborn manner of thinking.

The second involves some background knowledge so let’s look specifically at the IRS as a department within the Federal government.    The IRS is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury.  As such you have Cabinet and Presidential connections.  Like all Federal agencies, the IRS is examined by the Government Accountability Office.  In addition to that review, the IRS also has an Independent Oversight Board.  Congress created this nine (9) member board in 1998 (IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998).  The President appoints seven (7) members who must be approved by the United States Senate.  These members serve a term of five (5) years.  In addition to these members, the Secretary of the Treasury and Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service also serve on the board.  Hence we establish a more direct connection with the Senate in that they confirm seven (7) members of a nine (9) member board.

To keep Congress informed of works taking place within the IRS, the 1998 Act also created a National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA).  Local Taxpayer Advocates are located in each state who report to the NTA.

Under Section 7803(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate has these general functions of office:

(A) In general

It shall be the function of the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate to

(i) Assist taxpayers in resolving problems with the Internal Revenue Service;

(ii) Identify areas in which taxpayers have problems in dealings with the Internal Revenue Service;

(iii) To the extent possible, propose changes in the administrative practices of the Internal Revenue Service to mitigate problems identified under clause (ii); and

(iv) Identify potential legislative changes which may be appropriate to mitigate such problems.

You can read the complete section of the code here:

The NTA presents an annual report to Congress.  You can read the Executive summary of the 2012 report here and the full report here.

A letter from the NTA regarding the report submitted to Congress on 9 January 2013 can be found here.

As you can see, enjoyable and easy reading, but the basic message from the NTA to Congress has been clear.  The tax code is so complicated that it allows for too many dishonest people to profit, too many honest people to lose, and practically nobody has a clue as to if they made all payments or received all deductions from the thousands of pages which may or may not apply to them depending upon the day of the week, weather, or outcome of any sporting event.  I have actually been reading quite awhile, and sadly the day of the week, weather, and final scores may play a role as I contemplate all the loops, spins, 180s, and 360s you experience going page to page.

Let’s, however, try to keep it simple with political organizations.  Just read a few minutes from this link here along with the associated links provided on the entry page.

Of course the above deals with political organizations, not non-profit groups who are engaging in political activities which is the heart of this scandal.

So instead of political organizations, we actually need to start with charities and such.

Let’s maintain the simplicity with beginning here.

With that background let’s step back for some clarification before proceeding to additional links by going here.

Now for a few more summations on different aspects:

Election year issues

Political Campaign and Lobbying activities

Public advocacy

Obviously, I’m not even getting a shaving of ice off the tip of the iceberg for my sweet tea with the above links and links from those links.  Still, I’m confident in saying that if you have chosen to read 10 percent of the material from the links I provided you might also enjoy activities like a root canal without any anesthesia or be engaged in the James Bond life of an academician.

Should the President and Executive Branch answer to these claims of IRS profiling?  Yes and to repeat Yes.

My question though, is why are Members of the House of Representatives and United States Senators being excused?

One can argue that these actions by the IRS are about political ideology.  Whether true or not, I’ll contend that a legitimate counter is that none of these actions would be possible if either this or previous Congresses simply focused on representing their constituents, i.e. the majority of citizens instead of special interest groups.  Simply read the highlights from the NTA report to Congress this year and the letter from 9 January 2013.  Quoting from the Executive Summary, one quickly finds:

Tax Complexity.

An analysis of IRS data by the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate shows it takes U.S. taxpayers (both individuals and businesses) more than 6 .1 billion hours to complete filings required by a tax code that contains almost four million words and that, on average, has more than one new provision added to it daily . Indeed, few taxpayers complete their returns without assistance. Nearly 60 percent of taxpayers hire paid preparers and another 30 percent rely on commercial software to prepare their returns. To inspire confidence and trust, the tax laws should be comprehensible and the computations of tax should be transparent and relatively simple, yet few taxpayers today can confidently say they understand the tax code or even that they have correctly computed their tax liabilities. In this report, we identify tax complexity as the #1 most serious problem facing taxpayers, and we recommend (as we have in prior reports) that Congress vastly simplify the tax code to make tax compliance easier . We offer both conceptual and specific suggestions for Congress to consider as it moves forward.

I’m looking at this from the perspective of an individual filing taxes and not a tax exempt non-profit where this discrimination has allegedly and most likely taken place, but have these non-profits, been singled out more than folks like you and me?  How much clarification are we able to receive for our questions?  Will your House Member or Senator’s office at least provide a phone number or a page number in the code to put you on the right path?  I had primary responsibility for preparing a collection of Congressional papers for archives, and that single Congressman has hundreds of requests from constituents and his staff replies to those inquiries.  I can’t even guess as to the number of archival collections within which I have researched, and these types of documents are quite common.  Even when I worked for a former Congressman after receiving my MA degree before deciding to return to graduate school, I personally assisted a number of former constituents in finding answers to tax related questions.

In regard to the present scandal, at least to this point, my understanding is that every organization who did not withdraw their paperwork for the 501 (c) status received that non-profit designation.  Percentage wise I won’t even guess at the level of extra paperwork and hours they had to go through in relation to the 6.1 billion hours suggested above for individuals and businesses which I assume are mostly operating for profit.

For clarity, and yes repetition because I find it hard to fathom as reality, but I read the NTA reports in their entirety.  I’ve read these links and associated pages of the tax code, and honestly I’d rather retake my graduate school qualifying exams with a case of the flu, in need of a root canal, and desperately needing to pass multiple kidney stones without access to any pain medication.  My former professors can even require to me to write the writtens in some long lost foreign language and force me to pass orals in multiple foreign languages and even require me to read their minds.  Seriously this country boy would rather answer:  “Citing and annotating applicable bibliographic references, examine the unique “twists and turns” of Southern politics and how it influenced events and decisions both at the time and for future generations in local, state level, national, and international affairs from 1867 to the present,” which was my 8 hour primary field question with the additional conditions written above than to explain the pages upon pages of tax code I’ve read over the past 2 days.  Twists, turns, jolts, spins, have me imagining being out in the Gulf of Mexico in a pirogue and having the eye of Katrina pass over so I get to experience the eye wall not once but twice.

This question is more of curiosity, but should any groups engaging in politics in any fashion be considered nonprofit?  Some of these 501 (c) groups take in more contributions than many towns in America have funds in their own budgets. I’ll contend that every individual has their right to privacy, but if you are going to donate millions to a group to promote a political issue, isn’t it odd that people don’t want their name associated with that issue?

General advocacy arguments, I understand, but aren’t there differences?  I mean that there are a number of organizations local, national, and international which bring awareness and hope to those suffering from various illnesses, impacted by disasters, and other causes which desperately need any and all assistance that can be brought.  To me those are true nonprofits in that they are based upon help.  Others advocate for causes or obtaining knowledge, but they are not promoting a particular message.   Seriously, in these nonprofit advertisements on television are there any doubts as to the candidate or elected official they are criticizing or praising even if the names are not given?

One type of group which appears to have been subject to profiling involves some who mention United States History or the Constitution.  I’ll argue with anyone that promoting knowledge of the Constitution of the United States of America is a noble cause, but sadly as a Professor of History I’ve seen students coming into classrooms with lessening degrees of actual knowledge as they seem less capable of placing things in context versus using a selective quote to “prove” a partisan position.  Is the goal of the nonprofit group to educate or to indoctrinate?  The increase in that methodology is not limited to one ideology, but it is more difficult to get a student to read when a student quotes someone and asserts that quote is proof of the lack of representation with Parliament when the individual writing at the time actually referred to the United States under the Constitution.

Is profiling a good thing?  No in this case and no in many other situations where profiling is utilized.  Were the events in the IRS politically motivated?  Perhaps and probably, but the solution is not about political ideologies.  I’m wondering how many of these groups who feel that someone in the IRS treated them unjustly were treated in the same manner of large number of individuals simply trying to make heads or tails out of the plethora of codes and loopholes on their own.

Getting to that Constitutional knowledge issue, if Congress would start doing the painful and tedious work of creating a more transparent and simplified tax code, an abuse of power such as this would be more difficult to instigate.  The President does not have these powers in the Constitution.  It is Congress, and today in our Two Party System, one group holds the majority in one Chamber and the other group has the majority in the other Chamber.  It takes both Chambers to enact changes.  Therefore it takes both ideological groups to work together.

Hopefully, We the People will not focus on making this into a partisan ideological issue.  There will be time to blame whoever one wants to blame later.  The political talking points and rhetoric can wait.

First, let’s demand that our elected representatives’ stop focusing on blame and using that as an excuse, and simply do some of the tasks for which they were elected.  I’m being blunt but if any Member of Congress seems stunned or shocked by these IRS revelations, they obviously neglected to read the NTA reports or look at anything from the Oversight Board Members which the Senate confirmed.  The specifics involving the profiling are not there, but the vast opportunities for abuse within the system almost leap from the very pages.  Instead of being stunned or shocked, I wonder if any of them demanding investigations now actually cared.

Apparently though, they care if a special interest gets harmed.  Since campaign season now runs 24/7 and for the entire length of a term, they care if they think it may be useful for fundraising purposes in the next actual election cycle.  My primary hope, at least this time, is that the remedy for the special interests profiled is the same remedy for the average working American.  If Congress would simply start addressing the many economic issues of interest and importance to the United States of America, exploitation could be curbed and many people would benefit to a degree that trying to cheat the system would not be worth the risk if caught.

Again, it’s a Constitutional thing about why I’m not calling for anyone in the Executive Branch to work everything out.  I’m calling out profiling.  I’m asking Congress to stop the nonstop politicking and actually look at what is happening to this country.  The people know the problems, and Congressman and Senators can stop repeating the problems for their moments of fame.  If someone on the Hill actually proposes some solutions to the problems, then you will get reelected.

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2 thoughts on “The IRS in Profiles of Patriotic Tea: What does it mean for today and tomorrow?

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