Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Power to Tax is the Power to Take Freedom

Today's title is based on a quote from Rand Paul that I read in a CNN editorial earlier today. Those of you reading regularly know me well enough to know that this is the sort of sentiment I don't really agree with. I find the logic hard to follow. . . and have even when I have read this type of sentiment from a host of other thinkers who have tried to spell it out more clearly.

As I've stated in varying ways here before, I think the art of government is balancing the needs of civil society with individual liberty. Civil societies need educated children not forced into hard labor at a young age. They need clean air and water and safe spaces. I believe civil societies ultimately need to provide access to health care for most of their citizens. I believe the role of good government is create conditions where the majority of its citizenry can pursue life, liberty and happiness, even those born in abject poverty . . . maybe especially for those born into abject poverty. But I also believe that individual rights are important too. The rights of one should not be taken over the tyranny of many. Democracy tells us that the majority gets their way; our Constitution tells us that we are free to pursue happiness in the ways we wish regardless of what the majority wants.

I say that politics is an art, because there are lots of times when the needs of the many and the needs of the few, or the one (thanks Spock) are in conflict. So while some people might see any form of taxation as equal to bondage . . . for others those tax dollars are the path to freedom. They pay for education. Jobs. Military. Welfare programs. Etc. Etc.

To the point.

Is the IRS wrong to target specifically conservative groups in their audits of non-profits? Absolutely. No party may use its political power to oppress the another faction of society. If audits and/or censure were necessary for Tea Party-associated organizations, then they were also necessary for organizations like If organizations that claim to be 501(c)(3)s are engaged in political activity that crosses the (terribly vague) boundary then it is necessary for the government to uphold the law. And while the outrage, this week, is that conservative groups were unfairly targeted because of overt political activities, to me the outrage should be over something bigger than this.

Our local education foundation here operates as a 501(c)(3), as well as being staffed entirely by volunteers, and as such is able to return nearly 100% of collected money into our community, targeting schools where need is the greatest. This status also helps people feel more generous in donating because they get a tax break too. The 501(c)(3) was designed to help organizations (including churches) put money back into their communities, ultimately bolstering federal money that occasionally trickles down to the local level. This status was not intended to be one more arm for political parties to raise money without impunity.

Obama's firing the head of the IRS is probably a necessary first step (Politics 101: Every Scandal Needs a Scapegoat), but ordering next an investigation of 501(c)(3)s that supported his own campaign would be a good move. Both politically and morally. When problems are found, as they will be--everybody plays dirty in this game, equal sanctions must be in place. But then the third order of business needs to be a tightening of the 501(c)(3) rules. Senator Rand will rant and scream in his high-pitched hillbilly that political money is free speech. But I will know that for all his talk of freedom and justice and liberty . . . at its heart he is really talking about unfettered money into politics. Money that buys politicians. Politicians who favorably legislate for issues that make sure the people with the money keep all the money.

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