Congressman Louie Gohmert stands out as a real class act. Recent years have seen a severe restriction in the ability of citizens to tour Capitol Hill, limiting access to a new visitor center and vanilla-guided tours on strict paths and schedules. Gohmert will happily get you around that. Members of the House hold the privilege to escort visitors virtually anywhere, and Gohmert has become well known among his constituents and friends for his impassioned late-night tours littered with an encyclopedic knowledge of American history. He has been known to spend up to five hours with groups touring the Capitol, and clearly cares about infecting those he encounters with his love of the United States and its founding principles.
Thus it comes as no surprise when he prescribes the simplest of solutions to the ongoing scandal involving the federal targeting of Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny. “We need to be dismantling the IRS,” Gohmert told PJ Media.
Former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas called the recent IRS fiasco troubling — but writes that the only way Congress can protect the freedoms of Americans from a long pattern of suspected IRS abuse is to “shutter the doors” of the agency “once and for all.”
“The bipartisan tradition of using the IRS as a tool to harass political opponents suggests that the problem is deeper than just a few ‘rogue’ IRS agents — or even corruption within one, two, three or many administrations,” Dr. Paul writes in his weekly column, “Texas Straight Talk. “Instead, the problem [lies] in the extraordinary power the tax system grants the IRS.”
Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, excerpted in the video above, calls the recent scandals examples of tyrannical government. All of these men prove correct.
As the IRS scandal continues to develop, it highlights a deeper and more fundamental injustice in our social order, an ongoing First Amendment crisis fostered by the intersection of tax policy, campaign finance regulation, and civil rights law. Any response to this most recent episode which does not address the root systematic injustice will be incomplete, inadequate, and morally inexcusable.
Consider what those groups targeted by the IRS were attempting to do. Each was in various ways exercising its First Amendment rights to free speech, free association, and petition of government for redress of grievances. The freedoms of religion and press also wither under government assault.
It is vitally important, as we consider the gravity of the scandal, to launch our analysis from the bedrock of fundamental principle. Thus we draw the bottom line: any government intervention which curtails these First Amendment rights proves inherently invalid and ought to be opposed.
With the advent of the income tax and subsequent voluminous tax code, particularly the creation of the non-profit corporation, government positioned itself to define and regulate speech and association. Obtaining tax-exempt status requires an organization to operate exclusively toward exempted purposes, as defined by the IRS:
The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.
This language empowers the IRS to define such terms to political effect, with an inherent bias favoring the Left. What if an organization considers living free of burdensome taxation to be a human right? Does that count as a charitable cause? What if an organization believes that promoting school choice will combat community deterioration and juvenile delinquency? Does that qualify for tax-exemption? The answers to such questions land beside the point, which is that government should not be deciding what qualifies as charitable or not, and certainly shouldn’t be placing one citizen’s chosen charity at a contrived advantage over another’s.
What has been the effect upon our political landscape of the IRS picking winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas? Consider that even some among the Left object to the “hazy” notion of “social welfare organizations.” Alec MacGillis scoffs at the indignation of conservatives over the IRS scandal, writing for The New Republic:
At the same time it was sending long questionnaires to groups like a Tea Party outfit in Waco, the IRS was doing precious little to rein in the groups that were making a true mockery of the law on 501(c)(4)s—outfits like Crossroads GPS, the organization co-founded by Karl Rove that spent $71 million last year. This spending was undeniably geared toward influencing the 2012 election but, unlike regular SuperPACs such as its sister group American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS was not required to disclose the source of the funds. All told, the 501(c)(4)s spent $254 million in last year’s election, nearly three times what they spent in 2010. And yes, most of this spending was on behalf of the Republican side.
MacGillis goes on to define “the real scandal” as inadequate scrutiny of such organizations. Thus there exists no need to inquire further regarding his value of First Amendment rights. However, it would be worth inquiring whether MacGillis is equally flummoxed by the unquestioned activity of overtly leftist and plainly political non-profits like Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, Media Matters, and an expansive list of others. Should all be aggressively scrutinized, or just the ones MacGillis disagrees with?
The sheer number of leftist non-profits should not surprise anyone. The nature of these organizations, how they are set up and the standards applied to them, incentivizes a bias toward government activism. The very notion of “social welfare” subjugates the individual to collective concepts like “society” and “the common good.” Unlike the constitutional term “general welfare,” which properly understood means of equal benefit to individuals, “social welfare” places demands upon one class for the benefit of another. Such demands can only be met through an application of force, taking what will not be voluntarily given or consensually traded. Thus government benefits from the advocacy of “social welfare,” and stands incentivized to support those organizations which work to influence the culture toward adopting an ever more intrusive bureaucracy.
To understand just how inappropriate the status quo is, imagine how those targeted Tea Party organizations might conduct their business if the IRS didn’t exist. Forgetting for the moment that a world without an IRS would probably resolve most of the Tea Party’s complaints, these groups would be free to associate toward whatever purpose they desired so long as they could solicit freewill contributions of both finance and effort. Rather than waste valuable time and energy ensuring that their organizational structure and operational goals comported with government mandates, they could focus on exercising their First Amendment rights in pursuit of their happiness.
Where does government derive the rightful authority to curtail that freedom of association and speech? From where does an author like MacGillis conjure the righteous indignation to demand that organizations labor under government repression as they attempt to exercise their most basic rights?
Regardless of how we answer those questions, government is greatly enabled to curtail rights by the income tax. Deeply immoral in concept, the income tax punishes productivity, effectively criminalizing the act of survival. Simply by summoning the audacity to sustain and enhance your own life, you become indebted to government for services you may or may not consent to at a price established through oligarchy.
Such immorality is compounded by the labyrinthine exemptions and credits provided in the tax code, which act to encourage and discourage particular activities including association and speech. Combined with campaign finance regulations, the tax code chills an untold amount of political speech, denying citizens their fundamental right to petition their government and express their beliefs.
Add to that the travesty of public accommodation provisions in civil rights law, which blatantly intrude upon the freedom of association. The recent passage of gay marriage in Minnesota highlights but one example. A feebly crafted religious exemption provided legislators with rhetorical cover to claim they support religious liberties. Yet for-profit and secular business were specifically not exempted, which under pre-existing anti-discrimination law means that an individual’s religious conscience cannot apply to their daily interactions outside the church. In essence, secular and for-profit relationships are imposed by the state, rather than consented to among individuals.
Such inequality through the force of law is perpetrated in the name of equality. Therein lies the real scandal, with apologies to MacGillis. We have conceded our First Amendment rights to government at all levels. Even cities have civil rights commissions which harass private organizations for exercising their freedom of association. The current episodes which we regard as scandalous are only the tip of an expanding iceberg.
Solving the real problem will require a broad cultural reaffirmation of the sanctity of individual rights. More than an intellectual assent to the truth of these rights, Americans must reclaim a passion for the liberty they afford. Until that happens, the steps necessary to prevent abuses of power like those allegedly perpetrated by the IRS will remain politically unviable.