IRS 101: Seven questions about the tea party scandal

The Internal Revenue Service is under the microscope now, as revelations have emerged that the agency wrongly targeted conservative groups seeking nonprofit status. Here’s an accounting of what has happened, along with the ramifications.

2. Why is this such a big deal?

There’s a reason entities across the political spectrum, including House Speaker John Boehner (R), Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, President Obama, and the American Civil Liberties Union, have called the revelations “outrageous” and “chilling.” As an agency with immense power and ability, the IRS is charged with being nonpolitical, nonpartisan, and neutral – in other words, not being an organization that would target groups for their political positions.

That’s why the ACLU’s Michael Macleod-Ball called the situation “about as constitutionally troubling as it gets,” and Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California called it “the kind of thing that scares the American people to their core, when Americans are being targeted for audits based on their political beliefs.”

And then there’s the specter of Watergate, when the Nixon administration used the IRS to target political enemies. Those activities were among the articles of impeachment filed against President Nixon before he resigned. They also resulted in additional legislation to ensure that the agency wouldn’t be used for intimidation or abuse.

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