WASHINGTON – The only solution to the Internal Revenue Service abuses against conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status is to repeal the 16th Amendment, end the income tax and close down the IRS, tax attorney Cleta Mitchell testified Wednesday to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
“The IRS is such a corrupt, rotten and broken agency that it cannot be repaired,” she said.
“I am convinced the IRS has used FEC filings of political contributions to go after individuals who contributed to Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. The IRS is lying when IRS officials testify there is no targeting going on to the disadvantage of conservative politicians and conservative groups.”
The three other expert witnesses testifying Wednesday argued that the IRS has no business regulating political speech.
“Get the IRS out of the ‘speech police business’ as soon as possible,” David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, testified. “The IRS has proved it is incompetent at policing speech.”
He argued the current law as written places political advocacy groups seeking tax-favored status at the mercy of IRS agents who are not competent to make determinations of whether the advocacy speech rights of any given group are or are not within bounds of First Amendment protections.
“I’m concerned that the mistrust of the IRS developing out the demonstrated IRS abuses in administering existing IRS rules will cause tax delinquencies to increase, costing the taxpayers millions of additional dollars.”
Hans A. von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, explained to the committee that regulating political speech is outside the legal mandate of the IRS.
“The IRS should get out of the business of regulating political speech,” he testified, seconding Keating’s recommendation.
Among his suggestions, he recommended the IRS should be made into a more politically accountable agency by constituting several commissioners, chosen from both Republicans and Democrats, to direct the agency, modeled on the type of bipartisan management structure Congress created for the Federal Communications Commission.
James Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation, explained to the committee that current laws and labor union protection make it virtually impossible to fire IRS employees, even when there is clear evidence a IRS agent has engaged in misconduct and abused their authority.
“Managers frequently let misconduct slide in the federal bureaucracy,” he argued.
“This practice sheltered IRS employees who targeted Americans for their conservative political beliefs. Congress can fix these abuses by reforming the Selective Service Act to streamline the firing process to include such provisions as immediate suspension without pay when misconduct has been demonstrated.”
Under questioning by the members of the committee, Mitchell explained that in her decades of tax practice representing organizations seeking tax-favored status, it was only recently, under the Obama administration, that her applications for conservative groups began being delayed for months and submitted to heavy scrutiny.
“Tea-party groups under the Obama administration were quarantined to an IRS office in Cincinnati where they were scrutinized for a period of years and some have yet to get a determination,” she explained.
“The standards were different for progressive groups that were placed under minimum scrutiny and approved quickly. The IRS was looking to target any group that had ‘tea party’ mentioned in its name. The word ‘progressive’ was mentioned in some IRS targeting reports, but what IRS agents were instructed to do when ‘tea party’ was seen or when ‘progressive’ was seen involved two very different standards of scrutiny.”
She argued the IRS achieved its desired “chilling effect” by harassing conservative groups applying for tax-favored status while giving a quick green light to progressive groups making similar applications.
Under questioning by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, all four agreed a pattern of IRS stonewalling and lying to Congress justified the appointment of a special prosecutor.
“I don’t think there is any question there should be a special prosecutor,” Mitchell answered. “The problem is that the longer Congress waits, the harder will be the investigation, in part because of the spoilage of evidence over time.”
The Democratic members of the committee pressed the theme that the IRS also targeted progressive groups, though little support for that argument was received from the witnesses.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight Committee, in his opening statement noted the committee had asked Democrats to suggest witnesses to testify in Wednesday’s hearing but no names had been forthcoming.