Does L.A. Times reporter Michael Hiltzik read the news? Apparently not, since he penned one of the most lapdog press-worthy articles praising the IRS to bubble to the surface in the wake of the news that it targeted conservative Americans. Hiltzik’s column published in the May 25 Business section labeled the targeting as “supposed,” noted that for a small budget – the IRS does a pretty “good job.”
“Showing some love after the ‘witch-hunt,” Hiltzik insinuates that the current fiasco is rather peripheral since the IRS has done such a great job collecting revenue throughout its history. He noted that the changes made back in the Clinton administration, which shifted the agency from enforcement to a greater focus on treating the taxpayers like customers, is the epicenter of the trouble caused two administrations later. Hiltzik also lamented a that the shift away from enforcement led to a “brain drain” within the agency, and that real criminals, tax evaders, were left to operate freely. As for the bipartisan outrage over the scandal, Hiltzik wrote:
There's a purpose behind this show. For one thing, members of Congress are well aware that for the public, the IRS is "the easiest agency to hate," as Ventry observes. So why not pile on? Indeed, the IRS show trial staged last week by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reminded me of the old "Far Side" cartoon by Gary Larson contrasting "What we say to dogs" ("Okay, Ginger! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger?") with "What they hear" ("Blah, Ginger, blah blah blah blah, Ginger..."). In this case the lawmakers are assuming that the public will hear only "Blah blah IRS blah blah blah IRS...."
Hiltzik seemed to forget about the IRS's targeting of adoptive families, somethign that doesn't fit easily into the narrative that the agency was merely concerned with questionable non-profits. Is that a legitimate use of government power? Is harassing American families aiming to adopt children abroad and expand their families a hotbed of criminal activity and fraud? It's not like no one else has covered those abuses. Indeed, National Review reported on it on May 22. David French, who has an adoptive family, wrote the piece, and noted:
In 2012, the IRS requested additional information from 90 percent of returns claiming the adoption tax credit and went on to actually audit 69 percent. More details from the Taxpayer Advocate Service:
During the 2012 filing season, 90 percent of returns claiming the refundable adoption credit were subject to additional review to determine if an examination was necessary. The most common reasons were income and a lack of documentation.
■Sixty-nine percent of all adoption credit claims during the 2012 filing season were selected for audit.
■Of the completed adoption tax credit audits, over 55 percent ended with no change in the tax owed or refund due in fiscal year 2012. The median refund amount involved in these audits is over $15,000 and the median adjusted gross income (AGI) of the taxpayers involved is about 64,000. The average adoption credit correspondence audit currently takes 126 days, causing a lengthy delay for taxpayers waiting for refunds.
So Congress implemented a tax credit to facilitate adoption – a process that is so extraordinarily expensive that it is out of reach for many middle-class families — and the IRS responded by implementing an audit campaign that delayed much-needed tax refunds to the very families that needed them the most. Oh, and the return on its investment in this harassment? Slightly more than 1 percent.
Hiltzik complained that the IRS has struggled with money and staffing problems since 1998, but the agency seemed to have plenty of time and resources to harass conservatives and American adoptive families for meager returns on investment. In the case of the conservative targeting, their return was a summoning to the Hill, and a re-energized Tea Party that will undoubtedly have implications in next year’s elections.
The LA Times may have given the IRS some love with Hiltzik's column, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t stupid.