The Nerve of the IRS

The craziness of the IRS “scandal” cannot be underlined or emphasized enough. The fact that the IRS decided to scrutinize a group of Americans who basically state that they hate paying taxes and would go to any means to avoid paying taxes should not be a surprise to anyone. In my mind, scrutinizing tea party groups is a little like asking Willie Sutton why he robs banks. (His famous answer, “because that’s where the money is,” may be an urban myth but I like it nonetheless.) Since the disastrous, thoughtless Citizens United decision, the number of 501(c) 4 organizations has skyrocketed from a little over 1700 to well over 3300. The majority of these 501(c) 4 groups were, wait for it… conservative, tea party groups.

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Unfortunately, given the way this I.R.S. scandal slid so easily into ideological definitions, I fear that few non-politicos are recognizing the real disgrace here: that the federal government—Congress, the White House, the tax agency, and the Supreme Court—has created a situation where blatantly political organizations are able to legally break the law by pretending they’re something that they’re not.

The key to this obscene state of affairs is an entity known as a 501(c)(4), named for the section of the tax code that created it. Supposedly, these are civic associations or organizations devoted to social welfare, which can operate tax-free, but whose donors aren’t allowed to deduct their contributions. Fair enough.

But then come the loopholes that politicos have used to drive not only one truck through the intention of the law, but a whole fleet of trucks. Unlike a wholly charitable organization, a 501(c)(4) can engage in political activities, so long as that is not its primary purpose. In other words, I could form an organization that spends 49.99999 percent of its time, energy, and money on politics and still be deemed tax exempt. In other words, you (…me, any American citizen) can be providing a tax subsidy to groups that (theoretically) are spending almost half of their money on politics. It’s worse than that. Under the law, a 501(c)(4) can spend an unlimited amount of money on lobbying, so long as it is related to its “primary purpose.” So, in truth, an organization can be fully political under any rational interpretation of the meaning of that word, yet be deemed not to be primarily political under the law.

Simply put, the problem is that we have 501(c) 4 groups that are, in reality, nothing but political organizations dressed up to look like something they truly are not.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.

Books

A Letter to America

The Thirteeneth Juror

Where is The Outrage Topics
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