Washington politicians are currently pushing to increase funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by a whopping $80 billion. But we just got yet another example of how the agency’s powers are routinely weaponized against Americans for political purposes.
On Tuesday, the progressive-leaning investigative journalism outlet ProPublica published a drove of leaked IRS files intended to “expose” how some of the wealthiest Americans, like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, exploit the tax code to pay less in taxes.
The “bombshell” itself was kind of a nothing burger. It confused gains in wealth with failures to pay more in income taxes. (We don’t have a wealth tax). And, the report also made a mountain out of something we already knew, that the labyrinth of exemptions, credits, deductions, and the like in our extensive tax code are used to limit tax liability.
As the Wall Street Journal editorial board notes, “There is no evidence of illegality in the ProPublica story… the rich can afford to hire lawyers and accountants to exploit every part of the tax code to pay the minimum amount of income tax the law allows.”
That’s literally why those provisions—and accountants!—exist. (We can debate the merits of them all another time.)
Of course, the ProPublica report did stir progressive “tax the rich” sentiment into a renewed fervor, which was clearly the point. But what’s more alarming than this political pandering is how confidential IRS files containing citizens’ private information wound up in the hands of journalists.
“There are only a few ways in which the information ProPublica examined could have made it onto the Internet,” National Review’s Charlie Cooke explains. “It could have been leaked by someone who works for — or with — the IRS. It could have been hacked by an outside group. Or it could have been surreptitiously released by a member of Congress or a Biden administration staffer. Whichever one of these happened, the conclusion must be the same: We cannot trust the IRS.”
The most likely source, I suspect, is one of the IRS’s thousands of bureaucratic staffers sympathetic to progressive causes leaking to the journalists.
The IRS has once again been weaponized for political purposes against American citizens. Remember that during the Obama administration, the IRS was enshrouded in scandal after it was revealed that the agency specifically targeted conservative nonprofits. (Of course, there was never any real accountability).
The takeaway here is bigger than just the injustice that has been visited upon a few American billionaires. (For whom I don’t shed too many tears). If the government can leak their confidential records, none of our privacy is safe. Once again, we are witnessing the inevitable abuse that occurs when we empower vast, unaccountable bureaucracies in Washington, DC to investigate and manage the minutiae of our private lives.
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Brad Polumbo (@Brad_Polumbo) is a libertarian-conservative journalist and Policy Correspondent at the Foundation for Economic Education.
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