Two days from now, elections across the country will produce a “new” Congress, with all 435 seats in the so-called House of Representatives on the ballot and one-third of the U.S. Senate up for grabs. The state of play in Senate contests makes it appear increasingly likely there will be a change of party control from Democrats to Republicans in that upper chamber.
Elections are better than no elections, of course, even though the power of incumbency, fed by rampant cronyism, squelches the opportunity for widespread change. And certainly Republican control of the U.S. Senate could hardly be worse than control by the Democrats led by current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Still, the efficacy of elections is dependent on the extent that voters casting ballots for change can actually obtain that change.
We sing of the United States of America as the “land of the free.” Yet, that will be accurate only if and when elected officials in Washington make true the following phrase in our national anthem, calling this “the home of the brave.”
Is it possible that this new, 114th Congress might show enough bravery to stand up to the one executive branch agency that strikes fear in the hearts of Republicans and Democrats alike, rich and poor, urban and rural, political actor and businessperson? I’m talking, of course, about the IRS.
Even before being placed in the position of enforcing Obamacare and policing the 18 percent of our economy that is health care, the Internal Revenue Service was a threat to every man, woman and child in America, and a present tyrant to many, stealing their rights to political participation as well as their rights to the balance in their bank accounts.
When a mugger holds a gun to your head and says, “Shut up,” while taking your wallet, just how free are you supposed to feel?
Conservative media outlets have covered the IRS’s systematic and wildly successful blocking of citizens, preventing or delaying past critical election cycles the formation of organizations to advocate for change — if that change might entail any measure of increased citizen control over the federal Leviathan. But the scant attention paid by most of what’s known as the “mainstream media” has mostly been spent urging greater “regulation” (read: strangling) of non-profit groups that threaten the continued political status quo.
We emote over bloggers imprisoned in Egypt, democracy proponents under house arrest in China, people denied their rights again and again the world over — without any reasonable political recourse. But really how different is it when powerful tentacles of our own government abuse citizens and face no consequences?
Alas, not everyone wants to end the tyranny in the IRS.
“Outrageous” is the best word to describe the recent court decision whereby a federal judge let the Internal Revenue Service off the hook for ideologically targeting organizations applying for tax-exempt status.
True the Vote, which combats voter fraud, sued the Internal Revenue Service because of the tax agency’s deliberate obstruction of applications from Tea Party and conservative organizations like True the Vote. The long delay in IRS approval was costly in part because many prospective contributors to TTV had been awaiting the granting of 501(c)(3) status before going ahead with their donations. True the Vote’s president, Catherine Engelbrecht, was also harassed by other government agencies after submitting the application to the IRS.
Nevertheless, Judge Reggie Walton has cavalierly dismissed the suit, asserting that the eventual granting of the tax-exempt status means that the IRS had taken adequate “remedial steps to address the alleged behavior.”
Following the same exalted principle of jurisprudence, Walton would presumably dismiss charges against a mugger so long as at some point the arrested criminal had tossed the wallet back to his victim.
Sadly, this dismissal, no matter how outrageous, is not in the tiniest bit surprising. IRS personnel often behave as if they may assault our rights with impunity, so long as they occasionally defer to our protests by announcing temporary or cosmetic reforms.
Those foolishly uninterested in political agitation may take comfort in the fact that they have no interest in forming non-profit organizations. They should understand that governments unchecked in silencing political opponents tend to be, therefore, better able to rob and pillage from an economic perspective as well.
A recent report in the New York Times drives this point home. The same IRS targeting President Obama’s political opponents (and its own) is, in its spare time, ripping off hardworking business people through the unconstitutional tyranny known as “civil asset forfeiture.”
In a free society, civil asset forfeiture would allow the government to seize assets gained through criminal enterprises after a judge or jury had convicted someone of that criminal enterprise and established that said property was both theirs and gained through criminality.
In our less-than-free country, civil asset forfeiture allows government agents and agencies to act like highwaymen, stealing whatever they can get their greedy hands on from perfectly innocent people convicted of no crime — and often not even charged with one.
The very police agencies committing the robberies get to keep a big chunk of their ill-begotten gains.
Hence, we are rapidly becoming a land where the police supposedly protecting us from robbers are the robbers.
Not already aware of the dark methods employed by the Feds? The Times informs readers that federal law requires banks to report deposits of $10,000 or more to the federal government. The law also makes it a crime to deposit less than $10,000 if you are doing so to avoid the report triggered by putting in $10,000. Never mind that this has led banks to encourage folks not to deposit as much as $10,000 to avoid the inane paperwork or that many cash businesses regularly make deposit less than $10,000 because, well, the money they’ve earned is less than $10,000.
The asset forfeiture laws have been justified as necessary to go after drug sellers as part of the most unsuccessful war in American history. But as the Times tells its readers, the IRS has been robbing more and more bank accounts of honest, hard-working people never convicted or charged with any criminal activity.
There’s Carole Hinders who owns a small cash-only restaurant. The IRS seized her bank account with $33,000. No crime committed; no crime alleged — just a big, fat payday for the IRS.
Army Sgt. Jeff Cortazzo had his child’s college fund stolen. It cost him $21,000 to get back the $66,000 taken by the IRS.
Many others, especially small business people, have met similar fates. And it has been happening with ever-greater frequency. There were nearly fives times more seizures in 2012, a total of 639, than there were in 2005. Moreover, less than one in five people targeted in this way are ever prosecuted for a crime.
One can hire an attorney to sue the government for the return of the stolen money, but legal fees are likely to be $20,000 or more. Often, the cost of re-gaining the money is not only one’s valuable time, but as much money as one seeks to recover.
In the wake of negative news coverage about their ugly racketeering, the IRS’s chief of Criminal Investigations announced they “will no longer pursue the seizure and forfeiture of funds associated solely with ‘legal source’ structuring cases unless there are exceptional circumstances.” Meaning, of course, that they knew they were stealing from people engaged in no criminal activity.
And also reserving the right to maybe do it some more once the spotlight is off.
“How can this happen?” asked Hinders, the restaurateur. “Who takes your money before they prove that you’ve done anything wrong with it?”
The federal government does, Ms. Hinders, with express legal assistance and funding from the Congress.
Those we have elected to the Congress heretofore have done nothing to stop the IRS’s attacks on our political rights or our bank accounts. In fact, they have facilitated the abuse.
Perhaps, these politicians cooperate in letting the agency run riot, because they agree that the IRS (maybe themselves, too) should enjoy virtually unlimited power over us. Or, maybe, simply because they, like the rest of us, are scared of the IRS.
Will the next Congress be any better or braver?
November 2, 2014
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.