Susan Combs

As tax collector for the nation’s second-largest state, I know it’s a necessary function — from the fire station to the space station, nothing government does is possible without taxes.

But it’s sure no path to popularity.

Tax collectors have had a rotten reputation since biblical times. For all the services and all the people that depend on it, our work has to be viewed as fair and even-handed. It’s a basic bond of trust, and once that trust is lost, it’s hard to get back. Our entire nation was born when the colonists decided Britain’s taxes were unfair.

That’s why it’s so infuriating to learn that this administration has breached that trust so profoundly, by persecuting groups explicitly for their politics.

Just a few weeks ago, President Obama told Ohio State college students they should reject voices claiming that government is sinister, that tyranny is lurking “just around the corner.” Now it seems that those voices might just be on to something. When you hear the phrase “troubling questions,” you just know someone’s been lying.

As I write this, new revelations are cascading down each day.

Thanks to the IRS Inspector General’s report, here’s what we know: In spring 2010, the IRS began singling out Tea Party groups claiming nonprofit status for “special” treatment. That included excruciatingly detailed questionnaires — intrusive demands for information about members and employees, donor lists; printouts of Facebook posts, websites and tweets; minutes of all board meetings; they even wanted to know what was being read in a group’s book studies.

And even if they got their data dumps, the IRS delayed rulings on nonprofit status for months and even years. In an election season, as it happens.

At this writing, we don’t know who came up with this idea, although the administration initially wanted to blame “low-level employees in Cincinnati,” in a turn of phrase that may join “third-rate burglary” in the scandal hall of fame. It’s false on its face anyway, since we now know at least two other IRS offices were involved.

By June 2011, the targeting had spread to organizations that were critical of government spending, debt or taxes, that criticized “how the country is being run,” and even groups whose stated cause was to “make America a better place to live.” Now there’s a pack of dangerous notions.


Susan Combs

SUSAN COMBS is Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.