IRS apologists are furiously trying to change the subject from the outrageous targeting of political opponents by the IRS to a policy debate over forced disclosure of contributions to groups that engage in political speech. The story is that a deluge of applications forced the IRS to cut corners and the targeting scandal was an accidental result of mismanaging that flood. From there the apologists pivot to demanding a new crackdown on political speech, forced disclosure of donors, or both. But the story is a fairy tale and the "solutions" are unconstitutional.
The Inspector General's report actually shows applications were down when the targeting began. It shows that 1,735 groups applied for 501(c)(4) status in fiscal 2010, down from 1,751 the prior year. The fiscal year was in its fifth month, February 2010, when targeting began; we don't know what the standard was in February because it is redacted in the report. We do know the terms "tea party" and "patriot" were used starting in April 2010, more than halfway through the fiscal year. There is simply no way the IRS could have been flooded with applications that far into a year in which overall applications were down.
Still, the policy debate is an important one: Was the Supreme Court wrong when it found that the anonymity of group member s engaging in controversial speech is protected by the Constitution? Considering the revelation in the Inspector General's report that the IRS looked for "statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run" to subject groups to additional scrutiny, the privacy question is more vital than ever.
"Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs," the Supreme Court ruled.
Many liberals disagree. They believe privacy protections are simply an effort to avoid public scrutiny and responsibility, and the consequences of engaging in political speech should include suffering the potential reputational and business damage that could come from adverse public reaction.
The template here is the organized campaign against the corporate members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is rare among public policy nonprofits - on the left or right -in that it generally discloses its donors, who openly participate in a transparent process of developing model free-market legislation for state legislators.
Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment, a columnist on Fox News Opinion, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of the 2011 book Democracy Denied.
American Commitment is dedicated to restoring and protecting America’s core commitment to free markets, economic growth, Constitutionally-limited government, property rights, and individual freedom.
Washingtonian magazine named Mr. Kerpen to their "Guest List" in 2008 and The Hill newspaper named Mr. Kerpen a "Top Grassroots Lobbyist" in 2011.
Mr. Kerpen's op-eds have run in newspapers across the country and he is a frequent radio and television commentator on economic growth issues.
Prior to joining American Commitment, Mr. Kerpen served as vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity. Mr. Kerpen has also previously worked as an analyst and researcher for the Free Enterprise Fund, the Club for Growth, and the Cato Institute.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Kerpen currently resides in Washington, D.C. with his wife Joanna and their daughter Lilly.