Michael F. Cannon
On Friday, the IRS admitted that when “social welfare” groups with the terms “tea party” or “patriot” in their names applied for 501(c)(4)/tax-exempt status, IRS agents targeted them for extra (and extra-legal) scrutiny to ensure they were not engaged in politicking. The Washington Post reports, “about 75 groups were selected for extra inquiry — including, in some cases, improper requests for the names of donors.” IRS agents did not apply similar scrutiny to groups with “progressive” in their names.
Over the weekend, more details emerged. It now appears the IRS lied to Congress about this practice for more than a year. It also appears the IRS is still targeting tea-party groups today, in part because IRS bureaucrats believe groups that “educat[e] on the Constitution and Bill of Rights” deserve greater scrutiny.
Here’s a rundown.
Senior IRS officials have known about these abuses for nearly two years. The Associated Press reports: “Senior Internal Revenue Service officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011…on June 29, 2011, Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to the watchdog’s report. At the meeting, she was told that groups with ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Patriot’ or ‘9/12 Project’ in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny…Lerner instructed agents to change the criteria for flagging groups ‘immediately’…”. IRS agents also gave extra scrutiny to groups that “criticize how the country is being run.”
The IRS tried to get away with it again. The Washington Post reports:
the agency revised its criteria a week later.
But six months later, the IRS applied a new political test to groups that applied for tax-exempt status as “social welfare” groups, the document says. On Jan. 15, 2012 the agency decided to target “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement”…
The agency did not appear to adopt a more neutral test for social welfare groups…until May 17, 2012…
Of course, these revised criteria are not politically neutral either. Tea-party groups are still far more likely to receive extra scrutiny than progressive groups. Lots of right-leaning political groups describe their mission as working to limit government or educate people about the Constitution. Far fewer left-leaning groups emphasize educating people about the Constitution or openly declare their mission is to expand government. And note: the U.S. government treated groups as suspect if they educate the public about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Let that one sink in.
The IRS lied to Congress for more than a year. The Associated Press reports: “At a congressional hearing March 22, 2012, [then-IRS commissioner Douglas] Shulman was adamant in his denials. ‘There’s absolutely no targeting.’” Senior IRS staff knew that claim was false nine months before Shulman made it. Yet they let Shulman’s false statement to Congress go uncorrected, amid a congressional investigation into whether the IRS was targeting tea-party groups, for another 14 months. According to the Washington Post, “The IRS made no mention of targeting conservative groups in five separate responses to congressional inquiries between Nov. 18, 2011, and June 15, 2012, according to the [inspector general’s] timeline.” Even if we view the facts in the light most favorable to the IRS and assume Shulman did not know he was uttering a falsehood – which, by the way, would mean he is a very poor manager – the IRS’s failure to correct that falsehood pretty much makes it a lie. I don’t mean that in the phony way PolitiFact uses the term. I mean a real lie.
The IRS did not come forward of its own accord. The Associated Press: “The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week.” House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) put it, “Before the IG’s report comes to the public or to Congress as required by law, it’s leaked by the IRS to try to spin the output. This mea culpa’s not an honest one.”
IRS officials maintain the targeting of tea-party groups was the work of low-level employees and not politically motivated. Yet the agency has shown a willingness to deceive Congress and the public about its own misconduct. Congress should conduct a thorough investigation.
Even if it is true that low-level IRS bureaucrats were acting on their own, Congress’ investigation should examine the role Obama administration officials played in encouraging those bureaucrats to single out the tea party. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat explains:
Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.
It would be very bad if senior Obama administration officials ordered the IRS to intimidate the president’s political opponents. It would scarcely be better if administration officials denounced their opponents until IRS bureaucrats took the hint.
People should lose their jobs over this.
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The House Judiciary Committee has created a task force to address the problem of overcriminalization.
Here are some statements from the news release:
Chairman Goodlatte: “Over-criminalization is an issue of liberty. As federal criminal laws and regulations have increased, so has the number of Americans who have found themselves breaking the law with no intent of doing so. Americans who make innocent mistakes should not be charged with criminal offenses. We need to take a closer look at our laws and regulations to make sure that they protect freedom, work as efficiently and fairly as possible, and do not duplicate state efforts. I am hopeful that the bipartisan task force established today will be able to reach consensus and make recommendations to the House Judiciary Committee on how to improve our federal criminal statutes and protect our freedom.”
Ranking Member Conyers: “Unduly expansive criminal provisions in our law unnecessarily drive up incarceration rates. Almost one-quarter of the world’s inmates are locked up in the United States, yet Americans constitute only 5 percent of the world population. In addition, the incarceration rate for African Americans is six times that of the national incarceration average. I welcome the work of the over-criminalization task force in analyzing this serious issue.”
Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner: “Our current criminal code is riddled with outdated provisions, inconsistent with modifications made to reflect America’s contemporary approach to criminal law. This bipartisan task force will review federal laws in Title 18 and work to clean it up. Congress must ensure the federal role in criminal prosecutions is properly limited to offenses within federal jurisdiction and within the scope of constitutionally-delegated federal powers. I also plan to reintroduce the Criminal Code Modernization and Simplification Act which reforms and recodifies Title 18 of the U.S. Code. This bill cuts more than one-third of the existing criminal code, consolidates criminal offenses from other titles, and streamlines the code to make it more coherent for attorneys, judges, and Congress.”
Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Scott: “Although crime is primarily a matter for states and localities to handle, over the last 40 or so years Congress has increasingly sought to address societal problems by adding criminal provisions to the federal code. There are now over 4,000 federal criminal provisions, plus hundreds of thousands of federal regulations which impose criminal penalties, often without requiring that criminal intent be shown to establish guilt. As a result, we are hearing many complaints of overuse and abusive uses of federal criminal laws from a broad-based coalition of organizations ranging from the Heritage Foundation to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Today, we are establishing a bipartisan task force on over-criminalization to assess issues and make recommendations for improvements to the federal criminal system, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on this worthy endeavor.”
I testified before the Committee on this subject about a year ago. Good to see some action on this front.
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But the tank is built in politically important Ohio and new tanks mean manufacturing jobs stay in a key (Republican) congressional district. So what’s a half billion dollars on a weapons system which is not needed, which the Army specifically says it doesn’t want? Shoot, we’ve spent $400 billion on a fighter jet which can’t even fly in cloudy weather. So why not?
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The United States Postal Service (USPS) lost nearly $16 billion last year and has been attempting to cut costs by, among other measures, ending delivery of mail on Saturday. This simple, common-sense step has proved difficult and now Congress is backing off from its plan to end Saturday delivery, and it won’t let the USPS implement the cuts it is prepared to make.
Some in Congress are hailing the move. Senator Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, told reporters “this is good news for rural communities, businesses, seniors, veterans and others who depend on consistent and timely delivery of the mail.” Government employee union bosses also applauded. National Association of Letter Carriers president Frederic Rolando said Saturday delivery is “critical to the Postal Service’s future” and part of its “competitive advantage.” Sorry president Rolando, but that’s not quite right.
The USPS competitive advantage is not Saturday delivery but its government-enforced monopoly on all first-class mail delivery. Independent companies can’t compete on that field even if they wanted to. But even with its federally protected monopoly the USPS is a perennial loser. One notes, however, that even in tough economic times it finds a way to boost the pay of USPS executives, mainly by hefty increases in their already upscale retirement plans.
The cuts the USPC bosses want, including the end of Saturday delivery, might trim about $2 billion. That would not put the USPS in the black but simply make it less wasteful and inefficient than it already is. If legislators ever want to seek true reform they should lift the USPS monopoly on first-class mail. That would be real change everybody could believe in but an unlikely move from a Congress that won’t let the USPS stop Saturday delivery.
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Congress votes to shield top officials’ financial disclosures
By Stephen Dinan-The Washington TimesUpdated: 2:02 p.m. on Friday, April 12, 2013
Congress this week approved a bill to free thousands of federal government employees from having to disclose their financial dealings online, rushing the bill through the Senate late Thursday and through the House on Friday.
But the push to undo the online reporting requirement is proving to be controversial.
The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) said that posting all of that information online posed a national security risk. But the Sunlight Foundation, an open government group, said releasing staffers from online disclosure eviscerates part of last year’s Stock Act, designed to stop insider trading by federal officials.
“Rather than craft narrow exemptions, or even delay implementation until proper protections could be created, the Senate decided instead to exclude legislative and executive staffers from the online disclosure requirements,” Lisa Rosenberg, government affairs consultant for the Sunlight Foundation, wrote in a blog posting.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, introduced the bill on Thursday and had the chamber vote on it late that evening. The House took the bill up on Friday afternoon and passed it by unanimous consent, with no members objecting.
Republican leaders did not give lawmakers the traditional three days to read the bill before holding a vote. One GOP aide told The Washington Times the three-day rule did not apply to Friday’s action because the bill came from the Senate, while another said the House moved quickly because of a Monday deadline for the new disclosure mandates to take effect.
“In December when we extended the Stock Act deadline of public disclosure for financial disclosure, we required a study by the nonpartisan and independent National Academy of Public Administration,” said Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “This was their recommendation and the House and Senate agreed it was the best course of action for the time being.”
The legislation now goes to President Obama for his signature.
Last year, after CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a report suggesting that some government officials were financially benefiting from insider knowledge of federal actions, Congress quickly passed the Stock Act, which was designed to crack down on insider trading.
Part of the law required that senior government officials’ financial disclosure reports — which they are already required to submit in paper — be made available online in a searchable, sortable format. The belief was that publishing them online would make it easier for reporters and the public to try to spot illicit dealings.
The online disclosure provisions had not yet taken effect, and Congress asked NAPA to review the law.
In a report release last month a five-member NAPA panel said online posting would mean more sensitive information about high-level government employees would be easily available, which would make identify theft easier.
“An open, online, searchable and exploitable database of personal financial information about senior federal employees will provide easy access to ‘high quality’ personal information on ‘high value’ targets,” NAPA officials said in their report.
The Defense Department told NAPA that online disclosure would mean hostile nations would have easy access to sensitive personal information about top national security officials.
The revelations raised questions about Congress’s rush to pass the Stock Act in the first place last year.
It passed 96-3 in the Senate and 417-2 in the House, amid intense pressure from Mr. Obama, who called for its passage in his 2012 State of the Union address, and from outside public interest groups.
At the time, the few dissenters warned that the law over-promised and under-delivered.
Some members of Congress, meanwhile, want to go further and ban the use of “political intelligence” — a catch-all term for those with non-public knowledge about things brewing in government that could affect the markets.
In a report this week the Government Accountability said it was impossible to quantify how much political intelligence was being used in financial dealings.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Fri Apr 12, 2013 12:14 pm
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Cato Challenges the Supreme Court to Decide that Congress Doesn’t Have Unlimited Jurisdiction Over Everyone
Last year’s partial victory in the Obamacare case is already being applied to new cases reaching the Supreme Court. Recall that, in that case, the Court accepted our argument that the government cannot use the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses to compel someone to purchase health insurance. The Court held that allowing Congress to compel commerce into existence would be an improper use of a great and limitless power. In United States v. Kebodeaux, the Supreme Court will once again address an assertion of power that, if upheld, could give Congress nearly limitless power.
In 1999, Anthony Kebodeaux was sentenced to three years in prison for statutory rape. He served his time, was freed from any post-release parole or probation requirements, and ended his relationship with the federal government in the matter of criminal law. Years later, when Kebodeaux moved intrastate from San Antonio, Texas to El Paso, Texas, he failed to update his change of address within the three-day period as required by the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) of 2006. Even though Kebodeaux was unconditionally released from custody before SORNA was enacted, he was sentenced to one year in federal prison. The Fifth Circuit overturned his conviction en banc, meaning that every judge on the Fifth Circuit heard the case rather than the traditional three-judge panel. They found the registration requirement unconstitutional because Congress lacked jurisdiction over Kebodeaux after they unconditionally released him from custody.
The government’s arguments to the contrary, the court held, would permit not just “unending criminal authority” over Kebodeaux but unending authority over every American who was once in federal jurisdiction, which is, of course, every American.
In a sense, the government is now arguing for the “Hotel California” theory of jurisdiction: you can check out, but you can never leave.
Yesterday, Cato filed an amicus brief, joined by Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, arguing that it would be improper under the Necessary and Proper Clause to permit Congress to have unending authority over all Americans. Congress already lacks a general power to punish criminals, much less monitor previously released criminals and impose new and onerous restrictions on them at will. Moreover, there is nothing constitutionally special about sex offenders as a class. Congress should not be allowed to designate a sub-class of people within its jurisdiction as “special” and then assert perpetual jurisdiction over them. These type of assertions of power are precisely what the “proper” element of the Necessary and Proper Clause is supposed to protect against–ones that, even if “necessary,” would give Congress unbounded power.
Indeed, if the Court rules in favor of the government’s position, it will give Congress virtually unlimited power to regulate nearly all Americans. In essence, it would justify the gradual imposition of endless new requirements on anyone who had previously been subject to federal jurisdiction. Cumulatively, these federal impositions amount to unlimited federal authority over anyone who has ever been held in federal custody or otherwise in federal jurisdiction. This cannot be a power vested in a Congress with “few and defined” powers. As the Supreme Court held in the Obamacare case, Congress doesn’t have the power to “regulate an individual from cradle to grave.”
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Pretty much every president has grasped for more and more power. But this one seems particularly enamored with it.
In the wake of Watergate, Congress was able to reassert some of it’s authority, but that has ebbed away with each succeeding year. Bush took executive power to new (arguably unconstitutional) heights. Obama is now taking things even further than Bush (by a good measure.)
Obama is feeling his oats. His time to act is now. He wants gun control and dammit, he is going to get it. Even if it means shredding the Constitution a bit more. At this point why not, right? Who’s he hurting? The people who don’t like him anyway. And that’s what American politics is all about, abandoning the rule of law to teach your opponents a lesson.
Don’t forget that this is the president which initiated war in Libya without even any consultation with Congress. Never mind a declaration of war, which we haven’t had since World War II. He didn’t even get a resolution. He just ordered bombs to start dropping while Congress was on break. By the time they came back it was a fait accompli. I mean what was Congress going to do anyway?
I urge the people who read this site who come from a more progressive disposition to seriously think about how the president is acting right now. Remember how much you didn’t like Bush’s policies? (For the record I was right there with you on the war. And many other things.) Will the next president take it even further? Most likely. Will that president be someone you like? Possibly not. Obama thinks he’s being bold. In reality he is endangering the American experiment.
The post Rand Paul Says Obama is not “King.” Can’t Go Around Congress Just Because He Wants to. appeared first on AgainstCronyCapitalism.org.
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It had the makings of a shockingly reasonable legislative bargain: Two outdated federal privacy statutes would be reformed together, removing some unnecessarily stringent restrictions on sharing video records while finally imposing a clear warrant requirement for government searches of e-mail and other private files stored in the “cloud.” Then Congress, perhaps in homage to Darth Vader, decided to alter the deal: A bill weakening the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 has been sent to the president for his signature, but without the corresponding badly-needed reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
On the merits, the changes to the Video Privacy Protection Act actually make sense. Passed in the wake of Robert Bork’s unsuccessful Supreme Court confirmation hearings, during which a newspaper published a list of videos rented by the nominee, the VPPA barred any disclosure of video rental records without the explicit and specific consent of the customer on each and every occasion. That seemed reasonable enough at the time, but has proved an annoyance to video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which would like to make it easy for users to automatically post the movies and TV shows they’ve watched to social media services like Twitter or Facebook without having to click an extra “I consent” box every time—something that’s not required when users similarly share the music they’re listening to on services like Spotify or Pandora. So those companies wanted to let users give up-front, blanket consent for automatic sharing of videos.
Only the most hardcore privacy watchdogs had a serious substantive problem with such a change, but many nevertheless disliked the idea of diluting one of the stronger privacy statutes on the books when, in so many other areas, changing technologies had rendered existing privacy protections far too weak. Perhaps the most glaring example of this was the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which established a confusing crazy-quilt of standards for government searches of remotely stored e-mail and other files, often allowing them to be obtained without a search warrant—standards that several appeals courts have already held to fall short of what the Fourth Amendment requires.
So Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) had proposed an eminently logical compromise: Bundle together updates to the two statutes, easing the excessively stringent privacy rules for video records while simultaneously requiring the government to obtain a probable cause search warrant in order to look through a person’s e-mail and cloud-stored files, just as they must when they search a personal computer or wiretap a phone conversation. The bundling ensured that privacy advocates—even the hardcore ones who disapproved of the change to the video privacy law—wouldn’t raise too much fuss about it. Few expected Leahy’s package, which had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, to be acted on until the next session of Congress.
Then came the Vader move: The House of Representatives passed its own bill amending the VPPA, but without the provisions enhancing protections for e-mail, and that legislation was quickly approved by the House. Again, this is not a bad thing in itself. But it’s a disturbing sign that, as technology changes, Congress is willing to water down privacy protections that have been rendered unnecessary or overly restrictive, but not to strengthen them even when they’ve clearly fallen badly out of sync with the way Americans communicate in the 21st century.
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John A. Allison
With the “fiscal cliff” mess not solved but merely kicked down the road a few months, it’s a good time to summarize a few points I make in my book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure. I hope – but do not expect – that our elected representatives learn to take a more broad-thinking approach in their problem solving when they revisit this issue in the coming months. It would be useful for them to have these points in mind (excerpted from chapter 19 “Some Political Cures: Government Policy.”)
In the long term, we cannot consume more that we produce. Our standard of living is fundamentally driven by our ability to produce goods and services that improve our quality of life and the quality of life of those with whom we trade. The question is, how can government policy contribute to the kind of environment in which human productivity is maximized and in which individuals can pursue their personal happiness?
The following are government policy structures that lead to a better quality of life, based on observations of the impact of government policies and of psychological and philosophical incentives on human action – especially on the behavior of business leaders:
- Low or neutral tax rates increase productivity and raise the standard of living for everyone, including the poor. High tax rates discourage investment and encourage high-income individuals to spend a great deal of their intellect and capital trying to avoid taxes.
- Government spending as a percentage of GDP needs to be materially reduced.
- The most important focal points for cost control are the massive entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
- Government regulations must be radically reduced. According to a an annual study, the total cost of U.S federal government regulations in 2008 was $1.75 trillion, or 12 percent of GDP.
- Free trade is essential for economic well-being.
- Immigration of productive and hardworking individuals must be encouraged.
- At the macro level, we must restore discipline to our political system. Above all, we need politics that encourage savings and investment and discourage unnecessary spending.
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The Senate has passed a bill raising income and investment taxes on the rich, keeping in place the new Obamacare tax on high-income families, extending tax credits for favored companies, extending unemployment benefits, and delaying the sequester again. In other words, as I wrote four days ago and also in August 2011:
That’s why fiscal conservatives should look very skeptically at the “fiscal cliff” and “grand bargain” proposals, most of which promise to cut spending some day—not this year, not next year, but swear to God some time in the next 10 years. As the White Queen said to Alice, ”Jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.” Cuts tomorrow and cuts in the out-years—but never cuts today.
Once again, Congress and the president have demonstrated that they just aren’t fazed by a $16 trillion national debt, trillion-dollar deficits forever, and a federal budget that has doubled in a decade. Our Greek future still looms.
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