By Mark Walker
There are calls to reform the Internal Revenue Service -- and change the federal tax code -- in the wake of the agency targeting tea party and other conservative groups. Suggestions include revising regulations so no political-advocacy groups can receive tax-exempt status.
We asked various activists and local members of Congress this question: What's your view of what the IRS was doing, and what should happen?
Richard Rider, chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters: "This scandal is far bigger than Watergate. The cover-up was long-term and widespread. Prosecute this as criminal activity, including colluding Treasury and White House officials. Political contributions should be neither deductible nor taxable, which is how it works now with political advocacy groups."
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: "The American people should not have confidence this is an isolated issue. Congress was misled, the American people were misled. It wouldn't matter one bit if a different group was targeted -- it is wrong. This committee will not stop this investigation until we know the IRS is fixed."
Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party: "A partial explanation for the IRS mishandling of the 501(c)(4) organizations is because of the sudden influx of these oxymoronic social welfare political organizations. Politicians pulled a fast one when they created the 501(c)(4) tax loophole. These taxpayer-subsidized political organizations spend hundreds of millions of dollars under the guise of "social welfare' to "educate' voters and shield corporations and wealthy individuals from public scrutiny. ProPublica, an independent investigative group, reported that one-fourth of all campaign cash this year was spent by these organizations. Make it clear: Organizations that engage in political activities should register and disclose their donors. Tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations are not allowed to participate in political activities. Eliminate 501(c)(4) from the tax code."
Dawn Wildman, president of the Southern California Tax Revolt Coalition: "The 501(c)(4) exemption is arbitrary about what political issues you can do with your status, but anyone going for that status knows it is a matter of time. If you spend a majority of your time on lobbying political issues or candidates, then that status may not work for you. You would better off doing a PAC or something like that. But most (groups) trying to get the status were social welfare organizations who were dedicated to educating people, not supporting candidates.
"Another disingenuous act by the administration, and frankly looks like a threat to me, so the intimidation continues. The solution in my opinion is to get rid of those that headed up the agencies, such as Lois Lerner and Sarah Ingram."
Jess Durfee, former chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party and current member of the Democratic National Committee: "This issue highlights the need for IRS reforms related to the tax-exempt status of groups who are actively engaged in partisan politics. Since the Republican-dominated Supreme Court gave us the Citizens United decision, there have been abuses by groups who are supposed to be engaged in social-welfare issues. Instead, those "nonprofits' are spending millions in support of or opposition to candidates -- and doing so while hiding the source of their money. Both IRS code and Federal Election Commission rules need to be reformed in order to address these latest forms of campaign contribution abuses.
"I agree with the decision by the president to fire the IRS commissioner, and I assume other IRS bureaucrats will also be justifiably fired following the review by the Justice Department. Clearly, the enhanced scrutiny of some applications was wrong."
Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego: "The situation with the IRS is disturbing. Tax-exempt status and politics should be separated, but where you draw the line and how you enforce it are the broader policy questions."
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego: "All Americans, regardless of political party or ideology, should be treated equally under the law, and no federal agency should ever use its authority in a biased way for political purposes -- ever. Such action is outrageous, unacceptable and completely inconsistent with the high standards of fairness Americans deserve from their government. Moreover, we must work toward removing outside group money from politics, as it has certainly had a negative impact on national dialogue and the ability to make bipartisan progress in Congress. That's why I support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. I'd ask everyone who wants reform to support that, too."
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine: "This is heavy-handed government at its worst. There needs to a complete uncovering of all the facts and full accountability, and for Congress specifically, there's new urgency to simplify the tax code to the point where the IRS is significantly reduced in size and reach."