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Profiling the tax-evasion organization

We might be forgiven for enjoying some schadenfreude at the plight of IRS personnel (for our few readers who don't speak Deutsche, the term refers to taking satisfaction from someone else's misfortune).

True, these folks are taxpayers themselves, and most are sincere, conscientious workers who just want to make a living performing what they regard as an honest job. Sort of like immigrant bean-pickers.

Tax collectors will always face an ingrained bias from the rest of us. Jesus disparaged tax collectors, even while he endorsed church-state separation by telling his followers to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." George Harrison's Beatles song "Taxman" continued the noble tradition of trashing people whose job is to fund the state using our money.

Recent politicking focuses on the IRS' abuse of bureaucratic power, though exactly who initiated or knew about the practice is far from clear. IRS workers have selected certain "code" words in the names of organizations applying for tax exemption, and subjected those groups to closer scrutiny before deciding whether or not to approve the application. Names containing buzz words like "patriot" and "tea party" suggest that such groups have politically conservative affiliations.

The IRS has long maintained a list of "red flag" terms that betray deceptive tax returns, subjecting involved parties to audits on that basis. This might be the first time the red flags represent probable political affiliation. Or not.

"Patriot" no longer carries the meaning it held for American colonists in the late 18th century. It has been usurped by a nationalistic jingoism, infused with militarism. Supporting your country by working to save its environment is rarely characterized as "patriotic," while public displays on "patriotic" holidays quite often employ booming guns and martial music. People who oppose runaway military spending, unfunded wars, and bogus preemptive invasions are castigated as "unpatriotic" by some conservatives.

It's safe to conclude that a group designating itself a "tea party" affiliate is not a historical society. The tea party is generally, and correctly, regarded as a political movement first and foremost.

To obtain the tax-exempt 501(c)4 designation, a group must promise to expend a simple majority of its funding on "public service," however we might define that vague term. The rest -- up to 49 percent -- can be spent on outright lobbying, like any tax-paying advocacy group.

Another benefit -- a 501(c)4 need not identify its donors. Whatever other perks that anonymity might confer upon the group or its contributors, it means that the public simply won't know when a noble-sounding organization is in fact sponsored by special interests that might call into question the group's real purpose.

No one has alleged that any group's application was denied on the basis of closer IRS scrutiny. Some feel that a decision one way or the other has been unduly delayed, or that they're being asked to provide too much trivial information. Slow and inefficient? The government? Seriously?

What puzzles me is that I've heard nobody call this IRS malfeasance what it really is: profiling.

You've heard about profiling. It's basically an advanced form of the poker-player's trick, watching for the "tell." The tell is an unconscious mannerism that betrays an opponent's bluff. Discern the tell, defeat the bluff.

Should the airport TSA screeners waste time scanning and patting an old white lady in a wheelchair? Realistically, she's no mad bomber. Oughta devote their time to more likely suspects, like the swarthy sweaty guy with shifty eyes and a hooked nose.

Who will the Arizona sheriff ask for proof of citizenship during a traffic stop -- the perky white cheerleader with an Alabama accent, or the dark, mustachioed little man with eight passengers in his van?

Profiling is just common sense, right? Apart from a few pesky civil rights concerns.

Who, after all, is most likely to resent and detest both the government and taxation, and view hoodwinking the IRS as a valid tactic toward restoring sanity to a nation gone liberal? Who most likely has the motivation to keep donors hidden? The Grandmothers' Multiple Sclerosis Coalition, or the Patriots for Freedom and Liberty?

And what kind of "public service" must applicants produce to use up the 51 percent of their budget that's not supposed to be spent on political promotion? Perhaps some public meetings to "educate" citizens about the Constitution -- especially how the Framers didn't really mean what they said, when what they said conflicts with a particular ideology? Yup. That's all it takes, and then these groups can funnel big money from fat cats like the Kochs (or George Soros, on the other side) into real political advocacy, to the tune of millions. Just as long as they spend a tad more on public service, which often has a strange way of materializing as partisan grassroots political lobbying. Most of these groups, shall we say, aren't spending much "51 percent money" building shelters for the homeless.

So which groups, of all that apply for tax exemption, are most likely to be seeking tax-exempt status in order to conduct the same political advocacy that such status was intended to preclude? Can you think of "non-patriot, non-tea party" groups so vehemently dedicated to overthrowing any government policy or administration that fails to conform to their narrow ideology?

Who would be the logical suspect for scamming the IRS by evading taxes?

You support profiling in the airport, or in Arizona? When the shoe's on the other foot, wear it.

Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and now lives outside Hays. hauxwell@ruraltel.net