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Editorial: IRS answers

Opening salvos were fired by senators on both sides of the aisle Tuesday in the hearing over the Internal Revenue Service.

That Republicans and Democrats are both unhappy with the IRS and its treatment of groups with tea party or conservative affiliation when it came to their applications for tax-exempt status is probably a good thing. Nor is anyone expressing much appreciation for the way the Obama administration seems to have dealt with the issue, as knowledge of this problem unfolded. That, too, we’ll add to the good column.

The bottom line here for our elected lawmakers in the Senate — and their counterparts in the House, who are also conducting a hearing into the matter — is to see that politics does not come into play when it comes to IRS operations.

Favor or hostility toward a political side cannot be what guides the IRS; all tax laws and the hoops that applicants for tax-exempt status go through must be applied fairly and evenly.

But we are afraid that politics will be what motivates senators in how the entire matter is examined in that the facts and the acceptance of what is the truth won’t carry the day.

Congress should need no reminder that it is the job of the IRS to determine if a group qualifies for tax-exempt status as well as keeping an eye on these organizations to ensure they follow the rules, one being that they do not stray far from their devotion to “social welfare.” That has become a harder task since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporations and labor unions to raise and spend thousands and thousands of dollars as long as the “primary purpose” of the money wasn’t for the defeat or election of a particular candidate.

In hearing from IRS officials, members of Congress should realize that of the groups checked to see if they were involved in political activities, a third, roughly about 75, could be called conservative. And these groups weren’t denied tax-exempt status.

Bad management and poor judgment are unacceptable for an agency like the IRS. But an unwillingness to see it as just that and not some conspiracy on the part of the Obama administration does not serve our nation’s best interests. Instead, Congress needs to see that improved regulations on qualifying for nonprofit status and better transparency when it comes to these groups engaging in political activity are what’s needed — not more witch hunts and an unwillingness to accept answers because they don’t fit one’s political desires.

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