EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 26, 2013

Column: Let's drain the swamp that harbors the IRS alligators

Barbara Anderson
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — I’ve never been personally audited by the IRS. Maybe the secret is to not have enough money to justify its effort.

Citizens for Limited Taxation, being purely and proudly political, isn’t a tax-exempt organization. In April 1983, we did create a research-education arm called the Citizens Economic Research Foundation (CERF); we’d heard it was a difficult process so were grateful that one of our supporters offered his Washington-based lawyer to file the paperwork to get tax-exempt status.

According to my files, we were given preliminary approval in November 1983, there was some back-and-forth paperwork, and we received our final designation as a 501(c) 3 in November 1984.

As I checked my files for this information, I was surprised to see a now-familiar name signing the acceptance cover letter: Steven T. Miller, Director, Exempt Organizations.

You may have recently seen Mr. Miller, just-recently acting director of the entire Internal Revenue Service, testifying before congressional committees about the targeting of conservative organizations. His new title, apparently: fall guy for part of the Obama administration’s 2012 re-election strategy of harassing the opposition. Mr. Miller resigned last week.

Considering that he was in his 20’s when he signed off on CERF, he must be about to retire anyhow. He seemed arrogant at the first hearing, but that probably just shows the attitude of many career bureaucrats, who reflect the ideology and attitudes of their boss. This is why it doesn’t matter who originally appointed them.

Aside from the length of the process, we received no harassment from anyone. Mr. Miller’s boss in 1983-84 was Roscoe Egger Jr., whose tenure I remember with pleasure.

When he became head of the IRS early in the Reagan administration, Mr. Egger set about making major improvements in an agency that was notably inefficient. I met him when he was helping to draft Ronald Reagan’s bipartisan Tax Reform Act of 1986, which simplified the tax code, lowering rates and closing many loopholes.

The IRS commissioner had been long-scheduled to address a South Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast but happened to be there the day after the Tax Reform Act details were announced. I was a guest in an unexpectedly crowded room, as reporters from around the nation converged on Quincy to ask questions about the tax changes. Because the changes were revenue-neutral, and part of a larger program to downsize Big Government, opponents were in typical attack mode.

CLT activists had gone through the same intense opposition during the 1980 Proposition 2 1/2 campaign. Our researcher, Joni Lane, now of Gloucester, had given me a plaque that said, “When you are up to your ass in alligators, remember that your purpose in being there is to drain the swamp.”

I wrote that message on an index card and gave it to one of the IRS agents who had accompanied Commissioner Egger, asking him to pass it on. He smiled and put it in his pocket.

Two months later I was reading an article about the tax reform battle in Time Magazine: President Reagan was quoted saying, “When you are up to your keister in alligators, remember that your purpose in being there is to drain the swamp.”

I’ve happily imagined the agent giving my suggestion to his boss, who gave it to Reagan, who liked it but was too much of a gentleman to quote it exactly.

Well, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 passed and improved things for a while, then they went back to normal complexity, which is why we are hearing arguments for tax simplification and closing loopholes today. IRS managers are no longer working for Ronald Reagan though; now they work for Barack Obama. Grab your keister and run!

First we learned that conservative groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, or with a mission to defend the Constitution and make this a better country, had their requests for tax-exempt status held up for as long as three years, past the 2010 and 2012 elections. As Congress began holding hearings, we learned about the IRS auditing Romney contributors.

Then Washington Times columnist Cheryl Chumlet wrote that the IRS and 15 of its agents have been sued by a health care provider for wrongfully seizing 60 million medical records in 2011. Apparently the IRS had a search warrant for financial data on one employee and seized information on 10 million people, including state judges.

Republicans in Congress have already filed legislation to remove the IRS as the enforcer of Obamacare, which was always a bad idea, not just because of presidential keister-kissing managers.

Jeffery Lord at the American Spectator has found that President Obama met with the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, Colleen Kelley, on March 31, 2010. The NTEU is “the 150,000 member union that represents IRS employees.”

The Treasury’s Inspector General’ report, titled “Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review,” indicates that the IRS, in Lord’s words, “set to work in earnest targeting the Tea Party and conservative groups around America” the very next day.

Taxpayer activists and tea party patriots: Focus. Remember our purpose in being here is to drain the swamp.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.