The ‘Very Serious’ Tradition of the Internal Revenue Service
Our tax-collecting agency has been called “an invitation to corruption” for decades.


Jim Geraghty

Way back in 1989, former congressman Edward Mezvinsky (D., Iowa) warned in the New York Times about a pattern of abuse and corruption at the IRS.  (Irony alert: In 2003, Mezvinsky was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in federal prison for defrauding business associates, friends, and family members of millions of dollars.)

Mezvinsky’s warning:


Something unsettling has happened in the Internal Revenue Service. A dangerous brew of power with virtually no checks has washed through the agency, permitting unscrupulous I.R.S. agents to use their enormous authority in unsavory pursuits — blackmail, bribery, granting special favors to friends and receiving favors in return. . . . 

There are reports that starting in 1985, senior I.R.S. officials in Los Angeles acted as sword and shield for executives of a well-known California apparel manufacturer. As a sword, these officials harassed a competitor of that apparel company by initiating a tax investigation. (No tax violation charges were ever filed against the competitor.) An I.R.S. official was subsequently rewarded with a job at the favored apparel company. At the same time, acting as a shield, the I.R.S. thwarted a tax investigation against the same apparel company.

There are also reports of I.R.S. agents around the country blackmailing companies and accepting kickbacks and bribes. In 1984, allegations were made that the assistant regional inspector in the Chicago office traded confidential tax information to a company controlled by organized crime in exchange for theater tickets and free dinners.

Disturbingly, there are reports of I.R.S. offices trying to cover up malfeasance by agents. Whistle-blowers who have tried to call attention to corruption have been transferred, demoted and audited. . . . 

That being the case, some influential members of Congress oppose any public revelations of abuses, just because they think public examination may reduce taxpayers’ confidence in the I.R.S. And as you can imagine, the I.R.S. itself would prefer that these hearings just go away, and may not, in fact, be fully cooperating with the investigation.

So much has changed since 1989, hasn’t it? After all, now we know that the IRS takes these sorts of corruption, abuses, and cover-ups “very seriously.”

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.