COULD THE IRS START TARGETING THE MINING INDUSTRY?

"The power to tax is the power to destroy." Daniel Webster (1782 - 1852)

Despite five years of onerous regulations and an anti-mining administration, mining hangs on. So, what's next? Maybe the recent revelations about misconduct by the IRS are a harbinger of things to come.

In May, the IRS confirmed that it was in fact improperly targeting not only tea-party groups but also Jewish religious nonprofits and organizations inspired by Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project. The organizations that were improperly targeted were subject to inquisitorial questioning in violation of IRS policies and practices.

The IRS improperly demanded that conservative groups disclose lists of donors - 501(c)(4) donors can remain anonymous under the law - as well as political literature, contacts with political figures and activists, even activities of friends and family members not related to the organizations in question. Jewish groups were quizzed about their theological beliefs and their opinions on Israel.

Lori Lerner, the IRS official in charge of tax-exempt organizations, told reporters on Friday May 10, 2013 that her superiors had been unaware of the actions, which she blamed on a handful of low-level employees in a Cincinnati office. She also denied that there was any political motivation. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell to you. No low level IRS employee in Cincinnati would risk their career on this operation unless they had the political cover of someone very high up - like at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

True, the IRS has been a tool of presidents since FDR. Nixon used them against his political enemies and the articles of impeachment against him included that charge. Clinton used them against talk show hosts, especially Rush Limbaugh, who was audited by the Clinton IRS every year. But Obama's use of the tools of power to target his enemies appears to be much greater.

In the last election, there were leaks of the tax returns of people who opposed Obama. Mitt Romney's tax returns managed to be leaked, as did documents from American Crossroads, the organization associated with Republican strategist Karl Rove. Prominent Romney supporter Frank VanderSloot was subjected to audits by both the IRS and the Department of Labor. Peculiarly, VanderSloot was notified of the audits barely two weeks after an Obama campaign website listed him among eight "wealthy (Romney supporters) with less-than-reputable records." When VanderSloot voiced suspicions that the audits might be politically motivated, he was dismissed as simply paranoid.

This is something that should scare everyone. The IRS is one of the most powerful agencies in the federal government, with fearsome powers that the Department of Homeland Security can only dream of having (Does DHS subject Americans to mandatory annual questioning about their personal lives, family arrangements, finances, business practices, travel, etc.?). An agency with that kind of power, with access to sensitive information on every individual, business, church, charity, and school in the country, must remain above politics.

Which brings us to the mining industry and the quote from Webster, that the power to tax is the power to destroy. The mining industry has dodged a lot of Obama regulatory bullets. But, what if the White House ordered more audits of mining companies? Just an IRS demand for documents can virtually cripple a mining company that can find itself needing to bring all hands on deck to comply with the demand. And if the IRS finds a problem, it can demand a payment of back taxes that can spell the end of the mine.

The problem lies not with the IRS, but its political overlords who see it as a weapon to use against its enemies. Congress must act to insulate the IRS from politics and stiffen the penalties against those who would use its information and power for political purposes.