Outrage is the new bipartisan rallying cry, thanks to the Internal Revenue Service. It is an emotion that should lead to a definite and severe response.
Republicans, Democrats, tea partiers, even President Barack Obama, appear united in expressing umbrage at revelations the IRS singled out for extra scrutiny conservative groups seeking nonprofit status during the 2012 election.
IRS officials disclosed that agency employees flagged groups that mentioned “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for nonprofit status or were involved in “limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement.”
Similar treatment was not given to applicants with a liberal or progressive bent.
Some top IRS officials knew about the practice since 2011, according to a draft of an Inspector General’s report obtained by The Associated Press.
In New Mexico, the Albuquerque Tea Party says its application for 501(c)4 nonprofit status submitted in 2009 has been delayed by numerous requests for hundreds of pages of documents, including private emails, newsletters and information about members and donors.
Four years later the group still awaits IRS approval.
The Albuquerque Tea Party is not alone. Other conservative groups tell a similar, shameful story.
The American Center for Law and Justice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 27 conservative groups arguing their nonprofit status applications were wrongfully delayed. The Albuquerque Tea Party joined the lawsuit in 2012.
IRS officials at first tried to downplay the revelations and blamed low-level staffers in Cincinnati, but the practice appears widespread. And the Cincinnati office is not some backwater rogue operation. It is the nationwide center for processing nonprofit applications.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — besieged on another front over reports his office secretly obtained phone records of reporters and editors of The Associated Press — jumped on the outrage bandwagon, calling for an investigation into whether IRS employees’ actions were criminal.
Denunciations have been widespread and cross party lines, New Mexico’s congressional delegation included. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., called for a thorough investigation. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., called the practice “reprehensible,” and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said it “would be a blatant and egregious abuse of power.”
President Obama, who claims he learned about the allegations through “the same news reports that I think most people” did, says he won’t tolerate such tactics and pledged: “We will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.”
And then what? This is a big deal. Not only should those directly involved in this practice be fired, but so should those who are supposed to be directing and setting policy for an agency that is supposed to be impartial in how it treats citizens and citizen groups.
Neutral government agencies, especially those with great enforcement and punitive powers, must not be used as political hammers against groups of one ideology or another. For one thing, the party in power changes often.
And remember, charges leveled against President Richard Nixon during his impeachment included abuses of the tax system against political enemies.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.