Smith: The IRS and its double standard

Smith: The IRS and its double standard

June 23rd, 2014 By Robin Smith in Opinion Columns

Robin Smith

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

As one who has worked in the heavily regulated health care industry, I've dutifully kept receipts, mileage logs and emails.

I didn't file these items because of my love of paperwork but because of Internal Revenue Service regulations that require documents to be kept for three to five years.

Now, as a businessperson, I know the need for administrative accuracy and meeting the legal standards for accounting and tax collection to avoid penalties.

The IRS, the agency created to collect taxes operating under the Department of Treasury, is known for its aggressive tactics in auditing, oversight and compliance enforcement. The mammoth bureaucracy employs more than 89,000 workers to enforce just under 75,000 pages of tax code. It has a massive, $11 billion budget.

The IRS has been recently exposed for its role as a political tool to audit, harass and delay the legitimate filings of pro-Israel groups, Christian groups, and tea party organizations. According to the nonpartisan group Judicial Watch, a "database of tax exempt organizations was sent to the FBI just before the 2010 midterm elections" by the director of exempt organizations, Lois Lerner. The possibility of criminal charges against these groups for participating in perfectly legal speech was being investigated.

This IRS data turned over to the FBI was no mere file of a few pages. The data included "1.1 million pages of nonprofit tax-return data -- including confidential taxpayer information." Judicial Watch connected the dots on these data transfers by the IRS to "the Justice Department to facilitate the potential investigation of nonprofit groups engaged in lawful political speech."

During congressional proceedings, pledges were made under sworn testimony to provide copies of electronic correspondence from IRS employees involved in this criminal activity.

The patience of those in Congress has expired with IRS employees, tea party leaders and a parade of other witnesses called to testify before Congress. In these almost 18 months, the IRS has promised repeatedly its cooperation.

Lerner sits in the middle of directives issued exclusively to silence conservative political groups and an apparent cover-up that grows with time. The U.S. House voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress in May 2014. Further, there was bipartisan support to request that the Department of Justice appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the matter.

This has become a comedy of errors, with the IRS now a laughingstock.

The response given lately is that the emails of Lerner and six other IRS employees central to this scandal have been lost. Not just "lost" in the sense that it's a matter of time before retrieval is possible, but permanently unavailable, most likely destroyed.

You see, the IRS, that makes us keep paper records for three to five years, has failed to live up to its own standards of record-keeping. It seems the agency had no other form of email backup or retention, as required by its own policy.

History shows President Richard Nixon was nearly impeached with one of the two articles of impeachment to include the misuse of the FBI and the IRS.

We're living under a tyrant's administration, as defined by Merriam-Webster: "an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution."

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm and serves on Tennessee's Economic Council on Women.