Do you indulge yourself in the illusion that government bureaucracies are apolitical actors who perform their duties in a neutral fashion that is fair and just to all? Well, welcome to the IRS scandal.
My view is that government bureaucrats are human beings, and therefore behave like all other human beings. In other words, they seek to advance themselves in life, and part of that is growing and enhancing the organizations with which they are associated, which in this case means the government. Also, they seek to diminish or destroy those who would diminish them and their organizations. These ideas are not new with me. In fact, they are the fundamental principles of a branch of economics called Public Choice Theory, for which an economist named James Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1986.
The corollary is that there is no such thing as a neutral apolitical actor or agency in the government. All government personnel are part of the main project, spoken or unspoken, to grow the government and to attack or destroy its enemies. It's like the sun coming up in the east.
Which is why, of course, nothing about the current IRS scandal surprises me. Well, maybe the nakedness and thuggery of it surprises me a little, but not really, because the current administration has 90+% of the media prepared to cover for it, and given the dynamics of the process it was inevitable that the administration would push the envelope a little farther, and then a little farther, and sooner or later a nerve would be struck. This doesn't even have much to do with whether the members of the current administration are particularly bad guys. It's just the nature of human existence.
And now that the nerve has been struck, we start to find out how far things have gone. I've put together here a little sampling from around the web, not to mention from my personal e-mail.
- From Mark Hemingway at the Weekly Standard of May 27 (not yet out in print edition), comes a report, via attorney Cleta Mitchell, that the number of conservative groups seeking 501(c)(4) status that were subject to some form of IRS special scrutiny, delay and/or harassment over the last several years is no fewer than 471. According to Mitchell, "80 or 90 groups all got letters that are virtually identical, that are oppressive, with 30, 40, 50, 70 questions with parts and subparts and sub-subparts." Oh, all of this is in the context of a close election, of course, when applications by "progressive" groups could sail through without delay.
- From John Eastman of the Claremont Institute, and also Board Chair of the National Organization for Marriage, comes a mass e-mail stating that "A year ago, someone at the IRS
illegally disclosed the confidential portions of [NOM's] tax return to the Human
Rights Campaign, the leading organization on the other side of NOM in the war
over the definition of marriage. At the time, HRC was headed by someone
who had just been named national co-Chair of the Obama for President campaign. . . ." Eastman states that NOM has submitted an FOIA request demanding the name of the perpetrator, but the IRS has denied the request, stating that the name is "confidential." Disclosure of a tax return is a felony.
- From Jillian Kay Melchior at today's National Review Online comes the story of Catherine Engelbrecht, a co-proprietor with her husband of a small-ish Texas metal manufacturing business with about 30 employees, and founder of a right-leaning organization called True the Vote, a group seeking to prevent voter fraud and train poll volunteers. Catherine filed for 501(c)(4) status for her group in July 2010. The application went into limbo. Later that year, the FBI called to investigate an individual who had attended an event of the group. In February 2011, the IRS initiated audits of the Engelbrechts' business and personal tax returns. In April 2011 the IRS sent one of its long questionnaires for information about True the Vote. In October 2011, the application still pending, the IRS sent another questionnaire asking for more information. In February 2012 came a third request for information from the IRS. On the same day, representatives of ATF showed up unscheduled to inspect the manufacturing plant (it makes parts for firearms, among many other things). In July 2012 OSHA showed up unscheduled, at a time when the Engelbrechts were out of town, for another inspection.
- From Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, via ICECAP, comes the story of trying to get information out of the EPA by FOIA requests. Turns out that if you are friendly to the EPA, they give you the information you seek promptly and moreover waive the fees otherwise payable; but if you are perceived as unfriendly (like CEI), they fight you tooth and nail for information, and then charge you as much fees as they can get away with. All this, of course, in service of what Horner calls EPA's "anti-affordable energy policies."
- And so it goes.
And into this mix, let us throw Obamacare, otherwise known as government access to all medical records. Supposedly this is for the completely neutral and apolitical purposes of finding the best cures for disease and helping to control medical costs. Right! If they can access and leak your tax return, can they access and leak your medical records? Of course. We'll just have to see how long it is before someone posing a serious electoral threat to those in power (control of the Senate, perhaps?) finds something embarrassing in his medical records leaked to the friendly press. Not long, I predict.