This morning Steven Miller, outgoing IRS Commissioner, testified in front of Congress that it is not illegal for the IRS to target certain groups based on their political ideology:


Is he correct or is it in fact illegal? If it is, in fact, illegal, please cite relevant law. If it is not, why is this not a form of prohibited discrimination?

  • 2
    My answer to the other IRS/Tea Party Q covers this. The equal protection clause is the law, Yick Wo v Hopkins would be an example of a SCOTUS case based on it. Worse yet, imagine if it wasn't illegal. The IRS could choose to have a tax holiday for everyone who registered Democrat. Then the next election cycle, whomever won could promise the same (since tax audits can go back 3 years, you better make sure your party wins :) )
    – user1873
    May 18 '13 at 15:15
  • As I understand it, a tax audit can go back 7 years. May 20 '13 at 17:20
  • The reality of course is that the IRS Comissioner didn't make that statement (or conduct the investigations) without taking legal advice. Of course all that proves is that he, and his lawyers, don't believe what they did was illegal. The only way it can be definitively decided if it is illegal or not is when it comes to court. May 24 '13 at 15:00
  • @JeremyHolovacs - It can go back further than that if you have an ongoing crime. So if your company is shown to have been laundering money and evading taxes for 10 years they can audit all 10 years. But if you stop doing it 7 years earlier and then pick it back up a year later then it is not an ongoing crime. May 28 '13 at 16:56

Many tax classifications, such as 501(c)(3) non-profit status, have requirements including lack of participation in political lobbying or campaigning. If certain groups, identified by any category not protected from discrimination under the law, are statistically more likely to engage in these activities, then the IRS is not only allowed but obligated to target those groups for tighter scrutiny.

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    I don't really think this addresses the OP's question: can the IRS target groups of a specific political affiliation?
    – Publius
    May 17 '13 at 20:58
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    The issue is mainly related to 501(c)(4) groups, not 501(c)(3) charities. Moreover, the targeting wasn't so much based on the nature of a group (political vs non-political) but the beliefs of a group (conservative, religious) and subjects related to their thoughts like what books they read, what the posted on social media, and in one case, the contents of their prayers. While there are protected groups, is there also protected thoughts or speech that should be considered legally?
    – user1765
    May 17 '13 at 22:17
  • @Avi is "political affiliation" a category protected from discrimination? (it's not) If not, then this answer applies.
    – Sparr
    May 18 '13 at 19:17
  • Yeah, so you should put in your answer that there is no prohibition against he IRS targeting specific political ideologies.
    – Publius
    May 18 '13 at 22:21
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    @TomD maybe I'm behind on my news, but has it been shown the groups were targeted based on their books and prayers--or were they being targeted because they appeared to be political groups? As for 'political speech' that seems to be a big part of this entire mess--the laws seem vague enough as to what these groups can and can't do that I find it hard for anyone to properly enforce them regardless of particular political leanings. Somehow an IRS worker has to draw a line between 'Social Welfare' and 'lobbying'? That seems ripe for mistakes, at best; this current mess, at worse.
    – user1530
    May 20 '13 at 15:51

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