SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 16, 2013

Our view: Rein in the IRS, not dissent

(Continued)

And of course, there was Friday’s bombshell admission by the Internal Revenue Service that it had targeted tea party groups and other organizations perceived as conservative during the run-up to the 2012 election.

The IRS pointed the finger at low-level agents. But the Associated Press has reported that senior IRS officials knew as early as 2011 that agents were going after conservative groups seeking nonprofit status.

A report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general due to be released this week said the head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations was told in June 2011 that groups with the word “Tea Party,” ‘‘Patriot” or “9/12 Project” in their names were singled out for special scrutiny. The 9/12 Project was initiated by conservative TV personality Glenn Beck.

The IRS watch list was later expanded to include groups that sought to educate people about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, groups critical of “how the country is being run” and organizations involved in efforts to limit — or expand — government, according to the Washington Post.

Speaking to a House panel last year in response to tea party groups’ complaints of harassment, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee, adamantly denied any targeting of political groups. Another inoperative statement after Friday.

It is highly unlikely Obama knew of the IRS actions, and there is no evidence to suggest he did, though he would not be the first president to use the tax agency as a weapon against political opponents.

But by demonizing critics, Obama and his administration helped foster a climate in which the IRS felt empowered to harass those who oppose the administration.

Earlier this week, the president said that if certain groups were targeted by the IRS for their political views, “then that’s outrageous.”

It’s beyond outrageous, it’s frightening. It also may be criminal. Heads should roll.

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