The Ottumwa Courier

Columns

June 18, 2013

Death and Taxes

IRS says it would like to apologize and forget the whole thing

OTTUMWA — They say there are two certainties in life: “Death and Taxes.” The Grim Reaper takes care of Death, while the IRS takes care of Taxes.

One is a ghoulish, heartless creature that reaches out with its bony finger, taps you on the shoulder and says, “Your Finished!”

The other wears a scary hood.

Amid the recent growing IRS scandal, a lot of people have been really bashing the IRS. I’m not sure I should jump on the bandwagon and pile on this all-powerful, no-holds-barred agency. Let’s not let 95 percent of the IRS give the the rest a bad name. In fact, just insert “IRS” into every lawyer joke you’ve heard, and you’ve got a whole new act at your next party.

IRS can’t find its receipts!

The most recent revelation in the growing IRS scandal is the agency spent nearly $50 million on 220 conferences  for employees over a three-year span beginning in 2010. That’s estimated because the IRS employees did not keep accurate records of all expenses. The IRS can’t find its receipts! The lavish spending included $4.1 million for one conference in Anaheim, Calif. During that conference, some suites cost $3,000 a night and employees got to watch training videos of “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island,” costing an estimated $60,000 to make.

Let me get this straight: This is all estimated because the IRS can’t find its receipts! That’s OK, I can’t find my receipts either. Let’s just call it even.

The next time the IRS says we need to see those receipts, just estimate. Just say, “I’m sorry, I’m really, really sorry. I don’t know where those receipts are. They could be in the last hotel executive suite I stayed in. So I’m gonna have to estimate. That’s what you guys do.”

Lerner pleads the Fifth

Just imagine you’re a conservative sitting there, and the IRS’s Lois Lerner comes up, reaches out with her bony finger and taps you on the shoulder. “Ahhh!” the conservative would scream, clutching his chest. “Good God woman, put on some blush!” Scary stuff. Your life could be over.

After acknowledging groups with “tea party” or “patriot” and the like were placed on a separate “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) list, to be subjected to lengthy, intrusive personal questionnaires and intensive scrutiny during the 2010 and 2012 elections, the IRS said, “That was wrong.”

Lerner, the controversial IRS director in charge of the tax-exempt groups division, added, “The IRS would like to apologize for that.”

You see, when you’re dealing with the IRS and you screw up, just say you’re sorry. I didn’t know it was so simple. They should understand. That’s what they do when they screw up! It’s no big deal.

In a conference call with reporters later, Lerner was asked what percentage of those scrutinized were conservative groups. Her stumbling response included, “I’m not good at math.”

That’s OK Lois. You’re just a powerful senior IRS official who can send someone to jail if they miss a decimal point. But what the heck. Let’s let bygones be bygones. She did clarify herself by saying, “I’m a lawyer, not an accountant.” A nice save ... and comforting. So, both lawyer and IRS jokes can work here.

Lerner insisted none of this was political. Details have since come out of her long and contentious relationship with conservatives, with a 34-year career in the federal government, including the Justice Department and as head of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) where she harassed conservative groups and candidates for years (see for yourself: Look up Lerner’s FEC past with conservative groups).

On Capitol Hill, when she faced the Congressional House Oversight Government Reform Committee, Lerner said, “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. ...” Then she pleaded the Fifth to prevent self-incrimination.

Now there’s a strategy! You should try that with the IRS. “Dear IRS, I have done nothing wrong. With all due respect, I’m pleading the Fifth and will no longer be answering your questions. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I'm going to go shopping.”

The kicker is, Lerner is still receiving a huge paycheck and benefits while on administrative leave. It begs the question: How bad do you have to screw up to ever lose your job at these agencies?

In addition, check out the ridiculous questions and request lists these targeted groups received, many unanswerable, intrusive and unrealistically time-consuming. One group testified the IRS leaked donors’ lists, opening people up to harassment by opponents, which intimidated potential donors. When you hear and read the stories, it’s clear the process was purposely designed  to be nearly impossible to pass, with roadblock after roadblock thrown out to put these groups in permanent limbo.

Shifty Shulman

After learning Lerner pleaded the Fifth, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a pure straight-shooter, testified before Congress. Shulman says he “believes” he did not have any conversations with the White House about the agency’s  targeting of conservative groups. Shulman visited the White House a lot over a two-year period, now updated to 157 times. Geez, just get a room!

To give you perspective, in G.W. Bush’s eight years, the IRS visited the White House once.

“One hundred and eighteen times you were at the White House, 132 members of Congress contact you about this information, 42 major news stories about this very subject and you told Congress a year ago, ‘I can give you assurances nothing is going on, everything’s wonderful, we’re not targeting conservative groups,’” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “This is unbelievable ... are you sure you didn’t bring it up with anybody at the White House?”

“Not to my memory and it wouldn’t be appropriate,” Shulman said. “So I certainly believe I did not have any conversations.”

Shulman was also grilled for not notifying Congress that the IRS was targeting conservative groups. It's reported Shulma said he first learned of the targeting earlier, but never alerted Congress. He testified before Congress in March, 2012 that there was "absolutely no targeting," going on, leaving lawmakers in the dark. Shulman comfortably remained as IRS commissioner until November 2012.

Wow Shifty ... I mean Shulman. Now that’s job security!

Shulman was pressed for reasons why he visited the White House so much — could he remember one? Shulman sarcastically said, “Um, Easter Egg Roll.”

Hope it's not politics

For the country’s sake, I hope this isn’t politically motivated to any large scale. But each day, the more that comes out, you feel more uncomfortable with it.

But they say you’ve got to give the benefit of the doubt! You know, I’m about benefit-of-the-doubted-out with Washington. That place is shiftier than a cross-eyed poker player. At least they have White House Press Secretary Jake Carney to steer you straight. If you ever want the low-down on a situation — he’s your go-to guy.

I don’t want to get in the political weeds on this, but Tea Party-type groups were a thorn in the Obama Administration’s side leading up to the GOP wave of success in the 2010 mid-term election. A lot was at stake leading up to the 2012 presidential election: the survival of the Obama Administration, the survival of Obamacare, the Democratic Party’s prospects and the IRS’s new power policing health care.

Shenanigans or not, it’s easy to see who benefitted from the IRS’s targeting of the Tea Party and other conservative groups, keeping them on the sidelines.

Writing this column  lampooning the IRS has felt a lot like writing an article making fun of Mike Tyson. You start thinking it could be your last. But that’s the very point, isn’t it? You should be able to write, think, have your own opinions without fear of intimidation, discrimination or suppression from your government. And by the way, I’m keeping track of my receipts!

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