By George Talbot
U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, said today he's co-sponsoring a bill that would make it a crime - punishable by jail time - for an IRS agent to target groups based on their political beliefs.
The bill, drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, was introduced after the IRS acknowledged Friday that it singled out Tea Party and other conservative organizations for scrutiny during the 2012 election cycle.
At least two Alabama Tea Party groups told AL.com that they were targeted by the IRS.
"Americans are outraged at the revelation that IRS officials singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status," Bonner said. "There can be no justification or defense for IRS discrimination against law-abiding Americans."
The so-called Taxpayer Nondiscrimination and Protection Act of 2013 would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code to make it a crime -- not merely a firing offense -- for IRS employees to engage in such discrimination against American taxpayers.
"There can be no justification or defense for IRS discrimination against law-abiding Americans." - Rep. Jo Bonner
Currently, the maximum punishment for IRS employees who discriminate is for them to be fired. The bill would impose a fine of up to $5,000 or imprisonment of up to five years, or both, for such misconduct.
Bonner said that's the same maximum penalty a member of the President's cabinet would face for directing an employee to undertake a similar act.
"We need to be perfectly clear that behavior of this sort is unethical, illegal and unconstitutional," Bonner said. "There should be no stone left unturned in investigating who authorized this unlawful policy, and they must be held accountable for their actions."
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said Roby was studying the bill before taking a position on it. Roby said those responsible for the IRS incident should be held accountable.
"What has come to light over the last few days just shows why legislation like this is emerging," Roby said. "The IRS targeting groups based on political beliefs? That doesn't happen in America. And if it does, saying you're sorry doesn't cut it. This hits close to home because one of the groups that was targeted is from my district. We must demand accountability."