Lois Lerner probably told the truth when she said, "I have not broken any laws," but she probably was suffering from truth amnesia when she said, "I have not done anything wrong," when she was hauled before Congress. At least truth arbiter and multi-millionaire U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) was pretty sure that she improperly used the Fifth Amendment invocation to dodge questions about the Tea Party targeting scandal brewing over at the IRS. When you've got a Congressman with over $400 million and a rap sheet (what is it with him and cars anyway?) it is not surprising that his public consternation has some tiny glitches when you find out that he "approximately" knew about the Treasury Inspector General inquiries on these matters in 2012. Lois and Darrell have probably steeped a couple minutes too few in the tepid integrity waters to make either one much of a model for Oversight and Reform.
The IRS behavior of selectively targeting non-profit supplicants is wrong. On a scale of 1 to irreparable harm to the nation, this indiscretion pales in light some other more egregious targeting: execution without trial (Obama's drone wars), Darrell Issa's beloved Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (or CISPA) which allows the government to capriciously monitor individual internet browsing behavior, and Apple's legal base erosion and profit shifting. In a week where there were genuine threats to citizens' rights and sovereignty, government was focused on conspicuous reviews of non-profits? When you read CISPA and the amendments it makes to the National Security Act of 1947 and several of Issa's other legislative hallmarks, you'd probably want to launch an investigation into Oversight and Reform's own Issa for concerns far greater than the appropriateness of the use of the 5th Amendment - specifically Amendments 1, 4, 6, 7, 10, 16 and the list goes on.
Tax exemption as an inducement to social engagement and provisioning is an anachronism. Covert operation financing - who can forget those wonderful charities that Reagan used to insure that Iranian arms dealers and South American drug lords helped secure his election? - would be greatly impeded if we actually eliminated these rackets as would countless other organizations. Could we run a democracy without the billions in electoral charity? When Andrew Carnegie published "The Gospel of Wealth", he argued that a wealthy person's "surplus funds" should be administered for beneficial community results. Clearly that same wealthy person's "surplus" should be augmented with a return of more "surplus", right?
Charity, religion, and education dodged the taxman's bullet in the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act of 1894 only to be gunned down by the Supreme Court the following year. Between 1909 and 1918, individuals were given tax deduction benefits for charitable contributions. In 1936, corporations joined the ranks of beneficiaries. By the mid 2000s, "charitable organizations" held assets in excess of $2 trillion and reported nearly $1.2 trillion in revenue. In longitudinal data from 1985-2004, charity growth expanded 107% while GDP grew at a cumulative 58%.
I'm sure some of you are already getting upset about the fact that I'm bashing your favorite charity or organization. Chill out! I'm not. What I am bashing is the century-old illusion that you'd become a miserly Scrooge if you weren't bribed into provisioning said institution. The Tea Party - that rage against government tempest - is upset that big government isn't subsidizing its rage against government! Seriously? Why didn’t the Tea Party actually make a point and, rather than seeking subsidy use the tax-exemption social engineering as a means of highlighting the irrationality of the tax code? My guess - because they like the parts of government that benefit their interests and rail against those that don't. Sounds pretty darn principled to me, doesn't it?
Darrell, Lois and Tax Eluder-In-Chief Tim Cook are all the latest cartoon characters in the faded celluloid story of a system that is only money deep. In a world in which we surrogate all our values and activities through the monochromatic filter of money, both the collectors and evaders are equally dimensionless. Tax exemption injustice claimed by the Tea Party is disingenuous if they really stand on principles. Public-service-for-sale and systematic erosions of civility for the monetary benefit of the influence peddlers is a debate worth having. But we're no closer to that this week than we were last. And we won't stand a chance of getting the bigger conversation going until we realize that we need to provision our shared objectives with values of time, effort, labor, knowledge, engagement, networks, collaboration, innovation, and effusive participation rather than prostituting the same in the brothel of money.
Would you like one lump or two?