Flogging the Taxman Redux

Congressional Republicans are trying to keep alleged White House “scandals” simmering well past al dente doneness. As facts unfold, it’s more like vainly trying to keep a wave upon the sandy beach.

Let’s remember last year’s GOP presidential primaries. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) made a seemingly intoxicated tirade about a tax return the size of a postcard. For a moment in time, the late, great Lone Star State political columnist Molly Ivins’ “Gov. Goodhair” had almost cornered the Otis, town drunk of Mayberry boozer and Cheech & Chong wacky weed stoner vote. In the changing fortunes of political campaigns, Perry would slink home in defeat, dreading breaking the news to wifey Anita, the Prairie Princess, that she wouldn’t be getting that Rose Garden.

irs1040In the world’s biggest economy, taxation is, by nature, complex. Ever notice the so-called “flat” or ‘fair’ tax schemes sold to the simpleton masses were concocted by rich folks to keep themselves disproportionally richer than the rest of us? It’s not just the four million odd words in the Internal Revenue Code which governs our duty as citizens to our nation, it’s the voluminous IRS Regulations, PLUS legal precedent found in Tax Court Reporter case law on top of the statutes to be considered. In the pursuit of the almighty profit, the myriad ways of making a buck have different costs to be considered. It costs more to generate a profit in capital-intensive manufacturing or labor-intensive service activities, than in being a hedge fund mogul, “lifestyle coach,” messy closet organizer guru, megachurch televangelist, newspaper astrologer, or timeshare condo hawker. We are taxed on net income.

I just love to laugh at the “rogue” IRS employee theory. James Bond, Rambo, or Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil aren’t working for the IRS. The stereotypical IRS auditor is an ordinary American working stiff, not the smaller kid picked on at the playground who passed the Certified Public Accountant exam just for vengeful spite. For most of us, the detailed and mundane aspects of taxation practice are about as exciting as watching paint dry or grass grow. Been there. Done that.

Case in point: Tea Party maven Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), whose much ballyhooed prior career as a “tax attorney” only lasted several years. She didn’t work at it long enough to pay off the student loans, much less be an experienced senior practitioner. The “Mommy track” and sashaying hubby Marcus’ “Pray Away the Gay” schtick beckoned her before entering politics and hiding in the bushes spying on the “Gay Agenda.”

The office politics of the maligned Cincinnati IRS office in question probably aren’t much different than the rest of us find working around other people. The boss probably extolled the worker bees to do “more with less,” leaving the “how” nitty-gritty up to the underlings.  Some employees are better and smarter than others. The proportion of “tea party” and “patriot” non profit tax exempt organizations amounted to less than a third of those applications examined in greater detail. If one were to believe the “oppressed” conservative carnival barkers, the world was ending. Drop the theatrical sturm und drang, and get real.

The oft spelling-challenged Teavangelstas might piously cite good book disparagement of tax collectors as justification for their attacks on the IRS. In a post Citizens’ United ruling world, many political organizations, across the ideological spectrum, sought a loophole relief from taxation. A significant number of liberal organizations were denied tax exempt status, but the Tea Baggers were far more vocal. Tax law has not changed; §501(c)(4) exempt organizations are NOT supposed to be primarily political in nature. There are rules.

Americans have long favored laws against unlimited, secretive spending to impact political elections.

At least six presidents have been accused of siccing the taxman on adversaries over the last century.  You don’t have to be as mean-spirited as Tricky Dick “I am NOT a crook” Nixon. The paranoids of the Tea Party need little provocation to feel persecuted as martyrettes for Republican Jayzuz.

If one needs to find “intrusive government overreach” in taxation, look at the private industry collection agents harassing ordinary taxpayers at all hours, used by many state governments. Oops! Those states tend to be run by <gasp!> Republicans.

We can continue to debate needed revisions to the tax code, but the IRS was doing nothing illicit in picking tax exempt applications for closer scrutiny.  How the Cincinnati office did so was perhaps a bit inartful from a PR standpoint, rather than patently illegal. As in all organizations, the IRS knows it needs to “continuously improve,” to cite Deming. In political circles, some officials were made to do the de rigeur walking of the plank.   The beatings will continue until morale improves.

The duty of fairly enforcing compliance to tax laws remains the work of a nation.