March 28, 2016 - 8:00 pm
As Pepperdine University law professor and TaxProf Blog editor Paul Caron has been dutifully documenting, it has now been more than 1,050 days since word of a scandal broke involving the IRS’s systematic delaying and denying of nonprofit status to conservative political groups, in order to diminish their influence on the 2012 election.
In 2013, a conservative group called the NorCal Tea Party Patriots filed a class action lawsuit against the agency, requesting access to files the IRS kept on the targeted groups. The agency refused to hand them over and the Justice Department stonewalled on its investigation, arguing that the files are protected by Section 6103 of the U.S. code, which was intended to assure taxpayers that their returns would remain confidential.
But as the Wall Street Journal reported, while the IRS has repeatedly dragged its feet in responding to the request — and the media has pretty much buried the story — the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals thankfully tore into the agency’s obstructionist conduct last week, ruling that the IRS must turn over spreadsheets it created on the targeted groups. Judge Raymond Kethledge, writing on behalf of a unanimous three-judge panel, called the allegations against the IRS “substantial” and “among the most serious allegations a federal court can address.”
“The district court ordered production of those lists, and did so again over an IRS motion to reconsider,” he wrote. “Yet, almost a year later, the IRS still has not complied with the court’s orders.”
Unless the IRS appeals to the Supreme Court, the agency is now under a seven-day deadline to hand over the lists to the law firm representing the tax-exempt groups.
The IRS hiding behind taxpayer privacy concerns is ridiculous, and the Sixth Circuit should be applauded for its ruling. These conservative groups in question don’t mind if their information becomes public, and, in fact, the spreadsheets could be the linchpin to their case, proving the IRS was intentionally and illegally targeting groups based on their political beliefs.
As we’ve mentioned before, it’s important to remember why this scandal matters so much in the first place. This isn’t just executive branch employees running roughshod over Americans’ rights, which already happens too often to begin with. No, this is about our nation’s federal tax collection agency using taxpayer resources and its considerable powers to actively influence the outcome of national elections.
The IRS needs to meet that seven-day deadline — that’s this week — with no excuses, and with every piece of documentation the Sixth Circuit mandated. The Department of Justice also needs to move its investigation forward and hold the IRS accountable for its actions.
Furthermore, this issue is one among many proving that the IRS’s reach is far too extensive, to the point of being partisan, and that the tax code is far too onerous for American citizens. The Republican-led Congress needs to pass a massive tax reform bill and put it on the president’s desk.