The worst offense in this IRS scandal hasn’t been the manner in which conservative organizations were targeted for review and blocked from participating in two election cycles. No, disenfranchisement of conservative nonprofits wasn’t the IRS’s biggest sin; it was the “outing” of conservative donors who were promised anonymity, and whose anonymity is protected by an important Supreme Court case.
Back in the 1950s, the NAACP was working hard to desegregate the South, and it was starting to gain traction in this effort. That’s when some Alabama government hacks hatched a scheme: Why not compel the NAACP to reveal its donor lists? Alabama tried it, and the NAACP declined. Alabama then turned around and hit the NAACP with a civil contempt charge, issuing a $100,000 fine for refusing to comply with state orders. Alabama’s intent was clear: to chill further donations and cut off the NAACP’s money supply. And money is the lifeblood of any corporation, even a nonprofit one.
Donors to the NAACP had good reason for wanting to remain anonymous. They feared personal reprisals and worried their businesses might be punished, or worse, especially if they were white Southern donors.
The Supreme Court saw right through Alabama’s attack on the First Amendment rights of free association and free speech. Alabama lost, the NAACP was vindicated, and the Court set an important precedent.
Flash forward 55 years and we have an out-of-control IRS that is illegally disclosing the identities of people who donate to organizations that support limited government and traditional marriage. And the IRS outed these individuals for the same reasons that the segregationists in Alabama wanted to out the NAACP’s donors. The IRS then took things one step further and actually targeted some of those donors with IRS audits.
That’s about as bad as bad can be.
And when the IRS goes after you, it’s worse than when a prosecutor goes after you for committing a crime. You’re not innocent until proven guilty; you’re guilty until proven innocent. The fines start. And the penalties. And the interest. And soon, your lawyer and your accountant are pleading with you to pay some money just to make the IRS meter stop running, even if you were guilty of nothing.
I suspect that many Americans — especially those who have complicated returns — would prefer a frontal lobotomy to an audit.
Get accused by the government of a crime — say, robbing a fruit stand — and all kinds of rights are there to protect you, including the presumption of innocence. But when the IRS comes a-calling, everything is flipped. That’s why most Americans fear the one arm of the administrative state they know best: Internal Revenue. Because the government has all the power, and the citizen is at its mercy.