One of my favorite book series is Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Chronicles.” They include her books “Interview with a Vampire,” “The Vampire Lestat,” and “Queen of the Damned,” among others. These stories sucked you right in. They are fun reads and fast paced. In these stories, you read of certain characters that are whispered about and referred to as “Those Who Must Be Kept.” It turns out that “those who must be kept” are the two original vampires, Kemet’s Queen Akasha and King Enkil. They were created as vampires by a spirit more than 5,000 years ago. According to the book’s legend, what happens to “those who must be kept” will happen to all other vampires, and so it was with similar interest that I followed the 21st century’s first IRS tax scandal.
If you are unaware, the scandal hit the news several weeks ago, when it was revealed that the IRS was targeting conservative Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny in their not-for-profit activity. The IRS, of course, is the federal agency that regulates tax-exempt organizations.
The nation, as can be expected, expressed its collective outrage, with President Barack Obama being quoted as saying, “[I]f you have the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous.” Members of Congress also expressed their outrage and began their hearings and committees to uncover the unholy culprits who would attack the American citizens in such fashion. It was freeing, because if you are like most of the nation’s population, the IRS is only spoken of in whispers for fear of “those who must be kept.”
The IRS is an incredibly powerful agency of government. It maintains every citizen’s tax records, including businesses; it has the power to collect taxes directly and to enforce its power through both civil and criminal procedures. It is a fair statement to say that the IRS knows you fairly well. It generally has your home information, your employment information, the information of your spouses and other dependents, and even some of your hobbies and other recreational or social engagements.
The IRS Tea Party scandal isn’t the first time that the IRS has been engaged in scandal. In the past, those in power have tried to use the IRS against its detractors.
God, as the saying goes, works in mysterious ways. This scandal, involving conservative not-for-profit social welfare organizations and Tea Party groups, may turn out to be a great benefit for society because it is reminding us of the tremendous importance of the work that is done in the not-for-profit sector and the importance of protecting the integrity and privacy of those social welfare, educational, and (in some instances) charitable organizations.
Given the current dysfunction in our national politics — and the fact that we have a Republican Congress — had the groups that were being given extra scrutiny been moderate or progressive in nature, Congress may not have made such a stink!
We would not then get the collective benefit of being reminded that IRS must function as one of the most-principled government agencies, free of partisan sway, and supportive of this nation’s great commitment to the social welfare of its citizens.
We have seen what can happen when partisanship controls government’s intrusion into the associational rights of citizens under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; great and beneficial organizations like Planned Parenthood are attacked to the detriment of poor and working families.
Just imagine what this nation would be like without the work of non-profit organizations, such as the United Farm Workers who brought dignity and protection to vast numbers of immigrants to this nation or the work of the National Organization of Women (NOW) who brought women from being solely barefoot and pregnant to having the choice to be in the workforce and succeed to the full extent of their ability or the Anti-Defamation League that has been in the forefront of ensuring that anti-Semitism does not rear its ugly head on our shores or unions that made the middle class possible to the average American worker or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who helped to dismantle the racist policies of segregation and Jim Crow from the American political landscape or the Human Rights Campaign Fund that has helped bring the fight for full equality for the LGBT community to the United States Supreme Court.
Only by forcing the abuses of the IRS to the not-for-profit sector into the open and the light of day can we ensure that this nation will continue its commitment to the equal rights of its citizens and its organizations that bring good works to the vast majority of those in greatest need. I’ll have some Tea Party, if you please.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation’s highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network’s crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City’s House of Justice.