For several months now the news media have been uncovering and publicizing various Internal Revenue Service abuses and scandals. Here are just a few recent scandals that have received media and Congressional attention:
- The IRS has been targeting conservative nonprofit groups that have applied for 501(c)(3) status – to be treated as tax-exempt nonprofit corporations.
- When Congress held hearings to investigate these claims, Lois Lerner, a high-level official of the IRS, asserted her Fifth Amendment right to not answer on the grounds that she might incriminate herself. But she did so right after she declared her innocence, an act which prevents her from asserting her Fifth Amendment rights. She still refuses to answer any questions.
- All of Lois Lerner’s emails during the period in question had mysteriously and absurdly disappeared from every system and server everywhere; however a few incriminating emails have since surfaced. There are similar missing emails for six more IRS officials involved in the targeting scandal.
- The commissioner of the IRS does not think there is any need for him to apologize on behalf of the agency for any aspect of this mess.
These are only the scandals involving the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. There are many more instances of abuse, corruption, and outright thievery by the IRS that have come to light in recent years.
The public is rightfully losing confidence in the IRS and the government. But is there a silver lining in all of this corruption, incompetence, and perhaps criminal behavior? Colin Hanna, in an article published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, says yes! He believes that all of the scandals and abuses by the IRS and other government officials could be presenting us with a “golden moment for tax reform.”
Mr. Hanna argues that the current problems stem from passage, in 1913, of the 16th Amendment, which allowed Congress to levy an income tax. The income tax was deemed unconstitutional prior to the 16th Amendment. The income tax was looked at as the answer to the wealth envy issues that had arisen in the late 19th century. The passage of the tax occurred at a time when progressive ideas were starting to take hold, and redistributing income from the rich to others was looking attractive to the non-rich.
But the 16th Amendment violates the 4th Amendment. The 4th Amendment gives people the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.” It’s a concept of personal privacy that goes back to the Magna Carta almost 800 years ago. It was included in the Bill of Rights because our founding fathers feared the British warrants, which allowed officers the right to search any person or house whenever they wanted to look for evidence of a crime. The 16th Amendment gives the government the right to force people to disclose their private financial information and papers, a clear violation of the 4th Amendment.
Mr. Hanna proposes that the current IRS scandals present us with the opportunity to fix this 101 year-old mistake. He states: “We can admit that the 16th Amendment, requiring people to disclose to the U.S. government information so personal that they wouldn’t ordinarily reveal it to their closest family and friends, was a grave mistake, and reverse course.” He also argues that the income tax is an inefficient means of collecting money for the government, citing an Americans for Fair Taxation study that showed that “the U.S economy loses at least $200 billion every year just trying to comply with the income tax.”
Hanna advocates getting rid of the IRS and regaining “our privacy and prosperity at the same time.” He recommends picking a date certain to end the entire tax code and replace it with “a simpler, fairer system like the FairTax, or another consumption tax.” He sees a “delicious irony in the possibility that public shock at IRS abuses could lead to the agency’s own demise…” The IRS may turn out to be its own worst enemy. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving agency.
The FairTax remains our best single hope for a prosperous future.
Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a Philadelphia-based public policy organization focusing on constitutional government, economic freedom, and traditional values. He wrote this article for the Philadelphia Inquirer. It also appeared in the Sunday 7/20/14 the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other newspapers. To read the full article by Mr. Hanna, click here.