Culture of corruption

It has been more than nine months since Lois Lerner, head of tax exempt groups at the IRS, admitted the IRS targeted groups based on their political beliefs. As the scandal has unfolded, the media has predictably remained largely silent, allowing the Obama administration to sweep it under the rug. In fact, in an interview with Fox News, President Obama went as far to say there “was not even a smidgen of corruption,” in the IRS scandal.

But we know better than to take the administration at face value. Actions speak louder than words, and even though the president says the targeting was not the result of corruption, his IRS is now trying to implement a new rule that will stifle free speech and damage the integrity of our tax system. The proposed rule redefines political activity for 501(c)(4) groups, overturning 50-year-old regulations.

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The Treasury Department quietly released the rule during the Thanksgiving season last year, hoping it would not attract attention. The Committee on Ways and Means, which is investigating the scandal, uncovered internal IRS emails from as early as 2012. In these internal emails officials like Lois Lerner discussed developing the rule “off-plan” – meaning in secret, away from the public eye.  When it released the rule, Treasury claimed it was designed to fix the issues at the IRS that led to the targeting scandal. In truth, the proposed rule would only institutionalize the targeting and make it impossible for many conservative groups –including many Tea Parties – to operate as they currently do. Simply, the rule would threaten free speech.

The IRS and Treasury cannot be allowed to target conservatives in any way, which is why I cosponsored the STOP Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act (H.R. 3865), which the House passed last week. This bill will prevent the Obama administration from finalizing the regulation for one year.  Forcing the administration to wait a year before implementing the rule will give Congress time to complete its investigation into the IRS targeting and develop commonsense solutions to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

In addition to cosponsoring H.R. 3865, I joined many of my colleagues and thousands of average Americans in commenting on the proposed rule during the public comment period.   Treasury and IRS received over 140,000 public comments on the proposed rule, more than any other proposed regulation in American history. The message is clear: Tax-exempt organizations do not deserve to suffer due to Obama’s efforts to politically influence and corrupt the IRS.

My efforts do not end there. Last week, I cosponsored the Protecting Taxpayers from Intrusive IRS Requests Act (H.R. 2531) and voted in favor of the Taxpayer Transparency and Efficient Audit Act (H.R. 2530). Both bills passed the House. They are designed to curb the amount of power given to the IRS, because it has demonstrated an inability to handle its power in an unbiased and nonpartisan way.

H.R. 2530 would keep taxpayers informed by requiring the IRS to explain the reasons for an extended audit for all audits lasting longer than one year. The second bill, H.R. 2531 will stop the IRS from asking taxpayers about their social, political and religious beliefs. Last week’s legislation is a step in the right direction in restoring Americans’ trust in our tax system.

Although the House has made significant progress by passing these bills, the Democratic Senate must act. The House has done its part by passing these important bills, but it is unlikely the administration’s friends, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Democrats in the Senate, will follow suit.

We still have a long journey ahead. Congressional investigators are still reviewing IRS documents and interviewing IRS employees.   My House colleagues and I are working tirelessly to investigate the wrongdoing that has been committed and fighting against the administration’s efforts to continue the wrongdoing. To allow Obama to use the IRS as his political arm would set a dangerous precedent. I refuse to allow the administration to infect our nonpolitical government agencies with its culture of corruption.  This corruption can be stopped and the administration will be held accountable. 

Carter has represented Texas's 31st Congressional District since 2003. He sits on the Appropriations Committee and is chairman of its subcommittee on Homeland Security.