Government Must Play By the Rules, Too

May 9, 2014
Representative Roby's Weekly Column

There's an old saying that, in life, nothing is certain but death and taxes. It's true that paying taxes is a fact of life, one that ordinary Americans accept and dutifully take care of every year. We play by the rules when interacting with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and if we step out of line there are consequences. So shouldn’t we demand the same accountability for those serving in the IRS? 

Of course we should. That’s why the stonewalling from Lois Lerner, former IRS Director of Tax Exempt Organizations, is especially troubling. You probably remember last year it surfaced that the IRS was targeting certain groups for extra scrutiny based solely on their political beliefs. It was revealed that the IRS focused increased scrutiny on groups that “criticized how the country is being run” and expressed an interest in public awareness “on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

Actually, a group from Alabama was among those singled out: the Wetumpka Tea Party, based in Elmore County. Whether or not your agree with the group's views, we can all agree they should be able to express those views without fear of selective targeting from the federal government. 

For the IRS to target groups or individuals based on political beliefs isn’t just wrong, it is un-American. Actions of this nature erode the public’s trust not only in the IRS, but in government as a whole. That's especially true when those responsible refuse to answer questions about what happened. 

Numerous emails from Lerner indicated that she was actively involved in the targeting and that it was not just “rogue” employees, as some had suggested. Given her clear role in the IRS targeting scandal, Lerner was called to testify before Congress. During the hearing, Ms. Lerner elected to exercise her right to avoid self incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, though many believe she had previously waived that right. The better question is this: if Ms. Lerner did nothing wrong, as her lawyers allege, then why is she so unwilling to share the facts and clear her name?

Lois Lerner was trusted with immense responsibility to ensure fairness under the rule of law, and instead it appears she used her position of authority to project a political agenda. Even now she continues to hide information from Members of Congress who are simply seeking the truth.

Her actions left us no choice but to act. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution finding Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, making her one of only five government officials to be found in contempt by the full House of Representatives.

I wish it hadn’t come to this. I wish Ms. Lerner had been forthcoming from the beginning about why her agency targeted groups and individuals because of their political beliefs. By dodging questions and obstructing the truth, Ms. Lerner left us no choice but to publicly condemn her behavior and hasten the Justice Department to act.

In a further effort to get answers, the House also passed a bill calling on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS targeting scandal. 

The Justice Department had a chance to prove it was truly committed to accountability by swiftly and aggressively investigating this issue, and prosecuting those who were responsible. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. It is that lack of accountability that has allowed Lois Lerner to think that she can “plead the fifth” to Congress without consequences. Our vote to hold her in Contempt of Congress showed that isn't the case.

I believe in the rule of law because it ensures fairness for everybody. If ordinary Americans have to play by the rules, then so must government officials. No one is above the law, and it's my responsibility as your Representative to make sure those who abuse positions of trust and power are held accountable.