The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 15, 2013

Lawmakers denounce IRS actions

Democratic senators vow to get to bottom of story

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— A hearing is scheduled Friday on Capitol Hill by the House Ways and Means Committee to explore the political tactics the Internal Revenue Service allegedly used against the Tea Party and other conservative organizations. Another hearing is planned Monday by the Senate Finance Committee.

West Virginia’s two Democratic senators, reflecting on the allegations that IRS agents put the Tea Party and others in their gunsights last year, vowed to get to the bottom of the story.

“The actions of the IRS are unacceptable and un-American,” Sen. Joe Manchin said.

“Government agencies using their bureaucratic muscle to target Americans for their political beliefs cannot be tolerated.”

Manchin called on President Barack Obama to “immediately” denounce “this attack on our values, find those individuals in his administration who are responsible, and fire them.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller said he found the reports “deeply troubling and wholly unacceptable” and exhorted the IRS to work in non-partisan, even-handed fashion.

Rep. Nick Rahall voiced concern as well and called for complete accountability.

“I am glad to see the FBI and Justice Department will be opening an investigation, but that is not enough,” Rahall said. “Congress has a responsibility to serve as a check on the executive branch and must ensure that any abuses of the public trust receive open scrutiny. I urge the Administration to cooperate fully as Congressional hearings get underway. Law and tax enforcement must be above reproach and beyond partisan accusations.  If violations of the law occurred, the appropriate officials must be held accountable.

"Both Justice Department investigations into the IRS and executive branch leaks to the Associated Press are about our nation's most fundamental rights enshrined in the First Amendment — free speech and freedom of the press.  As elected officials, we must show the American people that we are doing everything possible to protect and defend those precious freedoms.

A Tea Party legislator in West Virginia says he wasn’t shocked by the revelation that the IRS had singled out the conservative groups in last year’s presidential race.

What’s more, in advance of the election, freshman Delegate Jim Butler says he led his group in Mason County to be set up as a for-profit organization just to avoid that sort of targeting.

“We wanted to be able to contribute to campaigns and not to have the scrutiny so someone was looking over our shoulders to see what we were doing with any money we were getting,” Butler, R-Mason, said Tuesday.

Butler said he fears the day is quickly approaching that the IRS will begin zeroing in on churches with a crackdown on what preachers can say in the pulpit, based on biblical teachings.

“If a preacher speaks against homosexuality, they can call that ‘hate speech,’” the delegate said.

Butler, himself a church-goer, said he has recommended that churches yield their tax-exempt status to avoid snooping by the IRS and other government agencies.

“Once the government gives you this privilege, or allows you to be tax-exempt, they have some jurisdiction over what your activities are,” the lawmaker said.

“I’m not a member of the clergy, but that is something that is a concern among preachers.”

Butler said the incident shows that the federal government cannot be trusted, be it in the realm of taxes, or efforts to regulate the purchase of firearms on the pledge that enhanced checks are merely to keep them out of the hands of the deranged.

“This is a good example,” he said. “Once they have information, they do release it.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com