Playing the IRS card: Six presidents who used the IRS to bash political foes

Since the advent of the federal income tax about a century ago, several presidents – or their zealous underlings – have directed the IRS to use its formidable police powers to harass or punish enemies, political rivals, and administration critics. Here are six infamous episodes.

6. President George W. Bush (R)

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    Then Gov. George W. Bush waved to delegates at the NAACP convention during the 2000 presidential campaign, standing with NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. Bond said the NAACP came under IRS scrutiny after he criticized Bush at a 2004 convention.
    Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/File
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Two cases stand out amid claims that the Bush administration, too, used the IRS as a political hit squad.  

In a throwback to the Nixon era, the Bush administration appears to have targeted the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., for criticism of President Bush on the eve of the 2004 election. In a case that drew congressional attention, the IRS threatened to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status after the Rev. George Regas, the rector at the time, told the congregation that Jesus would have called the Bush doctrine of preemptive war “a failed doctrine.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D) of California called for an investigation of the IRS’s intervention. “As you can well appreciate, the actions of the IRS in this matter will have a potentially chilling impact on protected First Amendment rights,” he said. After two years, the IRS closed its audit, but without changing the church’s nonprofit status.

The Bush IRS also went after the NAACP in 2004, after then-chairman Julian Bond criticized Mr. Bush for being the first president to fail to address the group’s annual convention and called for his ouster. In its audit notice, the IRA said those statements constituted “improper political activity” for a group claiming nonprofit status. In a rare move, the NAACP went public with its complaints that the audit was politically motivated. After a two-year battle, the IRS dropped its case, and the NAACP kept its status.

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