Looking beyond Lois Lerner

  • 13 September 2017
  • NormanL
Looking beyond Lois Lerner

The Justice Department's decision not to pursue charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner has conservatives and activist groups in a rage. How could the DoJ have ignored all the evidence compiled during years of congressional hearings and investigations? There are many theories, but unless the White House pushes the Justice Department to reconsider what, on its face, looks like a huge blunder, we need to look forward at ways to take the politics out of the IRS entirely. 

The Wall Street Journal has a suggestion worth pondering:

What House Republicans should do now is create a structure that will stop assaults by bureaucrats on political activity. They’ve been putting riders in spending bills to bar the IRS from imposing restrictions on nonprofit speech. But this thumbs-in-the-dike approach does nothing about powers that IRS functionaries already have over political activity.

The solution is to get the IRS out of the political arena by limiting its role to the most basic administrative task of giving initial approval to nonprofits. Transfer to the Federal Election Commission the job of deciding whether a nonprofit is abiding by the existing rules governing political spending. The FEC’s commissioners would decide if complaints against the political activities of nonprofits had merit.

Democrats will rebel because the design of the FEC makes it difficult to sic the commission on political enemies. That’s why they made the IRS their political enforcer. Legislators designed the FEC to prevent partisans from turning it into a political weapon.

It takes a majority vote among its six bipartisan FEC commissioners to proceed with a judgment. Commissioners are confirmed by the Senate and operate in the open. The status quo gives this job—and power—to the IRS’s unconfirmed, unseen federal bureaucrats.

Campaign-finance fights make Republicans nervous, but they’ve got a political self-interest in permanently transferring this job to the FEC. Once back in power, Democrats will mobilize a crackdown against their single biggest obsession—“dark money.” Meaning the conservatives who fund their opposition.

Lois Lerner’s IRS operation was the swamp at its worst. The GOP would do the country’s politics a favor by draining these bureaucrats of partisan political power.

Shifting such an administrative task to the FEC might be a good move, in the short term. It is also no panacea. The FEC is notorious for its deadlocks, poor employee morale, and general inability to effectively police the rules currently on the books. Giving the FEC power over nonprofits could end up being more of a bureaucratic mess than leaving the task to the IRS.

The long term solution is to restrain the power and reach of government. A limited government has little need for a tax collector that routinely ignores both the law, and common sense. But getting to this point will take time, effort, and perserverance -- qualities rarely displayed in federal government, let alone the political class.