It seemed to come as a great shock when it was recently revealed that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) examines some taxpayers more closely than others.
Really? Because no one has ever objected to the IRS targeting some tax returns for audit. Among them:
- Millionaires (in fiscal 2011, the IRS audited 12.5% of them)
- People reporting more than $200,000 in income
- People claiming confusing tax breaks like the first-time homebuyer credit
- Home office workers
- Small business and self-employed people generally
- Very low income filers who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
So why, in the wild west of the first election years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling allowing political action groups, many with questionable funding, to mushroom and proliferate…why should anyone be surprised the IRS would exercise scrutiny on these here today, gone tomorrow groups? Why, in fact, would they not demand that the IRS do precisely that before granting tax-exempt status to whoever applies for it?
And why not specifically take a hard, cold look at tea party groups?
For one thing, there were more of them. The tea party spent buckets in 2012 to hang on to the gains they made in the U.S. House in 2010, even though they lost ground. GOP/Tea Congressional candidates received nearly $6.2 million in the 2012 elections while Democrats raised less than $4.9.
The other reason to look closely at tea party groups is that in their short history, they have demonstrated both a disdain for tax laws and a willingness to color outside the lines.
Let’s start with one local (for me) example. Richard Willich first made a name for himself as one of the early tea party zealots, back when they embraced the label, “tea baggers” for its wit and for showing that they were the modern day descendants of the Boston Tea Party organizers, who staged a rebellion against paying taxes.
In 2009, Willich, the CEO of a business called MDI Holdings and chair of the Florida arm of the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, announced a “leaded tea party” to be held on his company’s grounds to celebrate Labor Day. Patriots would bring the kids, their guns, some meat for grilling, and have a real good time shooting things up. What could go wrong?
Local law enforcement could think of a few things, and tried to contact Willich about discharging firearms outside a gun range and near high-dollar homes. Willich ordered his private security guards to eject any government representatives who came calling but, just as it looked like things were going to go all David Koresh Waco, he backed down.
Fast forward to 2012, when Willich, who has spent the intervening years making lavish and very public donations to school groups, was sued by Wells Fargo. The bank said the company welched on at least $30 million loaned to MDI and on which they said its CEO was living large.
Willich used loans to buy a 2010 Tesla Roadster, a high-end electric vehicle, according to court documents. Wells Fargo also claims Willich loaned himself $4.9 million for his farm and more than $300,000 for a biography and screenplay about his life.
There’s much more, including deals that MDI made as a government contractor (Yes! This is who gets the money when Republicans privatize) to provide prison health care that left North Carolina’s Duke University Health System on the hook for $8.3 million, and suits and counter-suits, but the point is…why should the IRS not be looking very hard at the Richard Williches of the world?
Why not go over the financial dealings of Rep. Michele Bachmann, founding chair of Congress’s Tea Party Caucus, who might have used 2012 election contributions to her campaign and to her tea party causes as her own personal ATM?
Why not look at Sheldon Adelson, who spent at least $53 million in the 2012 election cycle on rightwing candidates and causes, and whose Sands casino is being investigated for money laundering?
I’m not saying the IRS should target according to ideology. I’m saying it should target according to likelihood that tax laws are being flouted and circumvented. If that means that tea party groups float to the top of the audit pile, so be it.