Washington, DC…” One of the most disturbing aspects of the unfolding scandal involving the misuse of the IRS is what can only be described as an insatiable appetite for names, names, and more names.
Conservative groups – and only conservative groups – seeking to organize under Section 501 were subjected to pages of intrusive and irrelevant questions – but with a common theme: Give us the names.
Give us the names of your volunteers. Give us the names of your donors and your family members and your business associates. Give us the names of the speakers and audience participants at your meetings.
One man applying to form a group to educate teenagers in Constitutional principles was told to turn over the names of his students. As he told a reporter, “Can you imagine my responsibility to parents if I disclosed the names of their children to the IRS?”
Nor was this tactic limited to new applications. The venerable Leadership Institute – which has been schooling young people in Constitutional principles for 40 years – was put through a year-long audit. The IRS wasn’t only interested in financial information. They wanted the names of their students and college interns and the names of anyone who had subsequently hired them.
And when the IRS wasn’t demanding the names of ordinary Americans – or what they were reading or thinking or saying – in some cases, applicants were given names and told to reveal what they knew about these people.
Mr. Speaker, these are facts that are undisputed by the administration and its apologists. For a period of more than two years, these questions were put to Americans whose political opinions had been singled out by one of the most powerful and feared agencies of the federal government.
What I would like to know is, WHY?
Why did the IRS demand lists of the names of thousands of Americans whose only common characteristic is that they disagreed with this administration?
Where are these lists now? With whom were they shared? Who wanted to know these names? What possible use would the IRS have to track the names of high school students who simply wanted to learn about their Constitution?
But most importantly, what were these names used for and what are they being used for?
I don’t have an answer to these questions, but I find their implications deeply disturbing. And they must be answered during the course of the investigations now underway and they must be answered in full and with certainty.
I cannot conceive of the reasons why the federal government would be so interested in compiling such lists – but we know for a fact that they were and that fact is undisputed. What we don’t know is why, and knowing the answer to that question – and the other questions raised by this undisputed fact – is absolutely essential to a society that values its freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of press and freedom of conscience.
We know the ancillary effect of these illegal demands. They dried up donations to these conservative groups. They heavily suppressed volunteer activities. We know some lists were leaked to liberal publications like the Huffington Post and Pro-publica. What we don’t know is what was the direct purpose of gathering these names.
The administration’s spokesman this weekend said “the law is irrelevant” and called this matter a distraction. On the contrary, it strikes at the very foundation of a free society: the rule of law and the right of the people to question the policies of their government without fear of retribution or intimidation.
Seventy five years ago, Winston Churchill warned of a “state of society where men may not speak their minds, where children denounce their parents to the police, where a business man or small shopkeeper ruins his competitor by telling tales about his private opinions.”
If it is possible that we have taken even a single step down the road that leads to such places, then that matter should occupy our full and undistracted attention until it is fully and completely rectified, new safeguards are erected against its recurrence, and those responsible are held fully accountable.”