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Letter: Blame Politicians, Not the IRS

To the Editor:

Career civil servants of the Internal Revenue Service are being unfairly pilloried by politicians, mostly Republicans and some Democrats, who themselves are largely responsible for creating the problems.

The IRS is a neutral body responsible for enforcing, not creating, our complicated tax laws. One provision was that nonprofits conducting activities helpful to society, and not involved in politics, pay no or reduced taxes. Under pressure from politicians, this provision was watered down to permit nonprofits to engage in some politics if such were only a minority part of their overall activities.

What is and is not political is extremely vague and subject to interpretation. But Congress gave no guidelines; civil servants were left to fend for themselves. They did their best, creating standards and operating under them for years.

Then the Supreme Court ruled that nonprofit organizations involved in supporting political parties and candidates did not have to reveal their sources of funds. This decision, wildly cheered by politicians, resulted in vast amounts of funds being poured into existing and newly created nonprofits, many of them obviously political. And these nonprofits applied en masse for favorable tax treatment, claiming that the bulk of their activities were not political.

The beleaguered IRS — whose budget and personnel requests are routinely cut by the politicians — had to quickly identify which among the hundreds of applicants it should most closely examine. They used key words to help identify such applicants — words such as “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” “Fund for Democracy,” etc. Many that they so identified seemed to be right-wing organizations, others left wing or centrist.

The IRS’ approach was perfectly logical — identification for more intensive review. For politicians to label it “targeting” is silly. Organizations and individuals use similar approaches all the time when faced with complexities.

Ironically, a significant percentage of the applicants have long since been approved, even such patently political ones as those of Karl Rove and certain left-wing nonprofits. The IRS should be faulted for approving them. The involved civil servants leaned over backward and made dubious decisions to avoid political backlash. But they are getting the backlash anyway — from, of course, the politicians.

Raymond Malley