In 1931, the feds finally busted notorious gangster Al Capone.
But, they didn't get him for murder or for racketeering or bootlegging. He was charged and found guilty of tax evasion.
Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison. At that time, it was the longest tax evasion sentence ever handed down. That's the power of the tax code and the Internal Revenue Service.
In fact, the IRS may well be the most powerful organization inside the United States.
Think about it. They nailed Al Capone, put Wesley Snipes in jail and had a long battle with Willie Nelson over unpaid taxes. The IRS can audit anyone in the country for any reason. Their access is unlimited.
And it goes beyond individuals. They can target companies and charities. The IRS even has the authority to audit churches.
Throughout their history, the IRS' power has been used as an investigative tool by politicians. The recent revelations about the IRS looking into 501(c)4 applications of conservative groups has been happening for a long time.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, James Bovard points out almost all American presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have used the IRS to attack political opponents.
Roosevelt also dropped the IRS hammer on political rivals such as the populist firebrand Huey Long and radio agitator Father Coughlin, and prominent Republicans such as former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon.
President John F. Kennedy did it too.
Shortly after capturing the presidency, JFK denounced "the discordant voices of extremism" and derided people who distrust their leaders…Shortly thereafter, JFK signaled at a news conference that he expected the IRS to be vigilant in policing the tax-exempt status of questionable (read: conservative) organizations.
Bovard mentions President Richard Nixon (of course) and President Bill Clinton as also having used the powers of taxation to go after foes, but here's the ultimate point.
The IRS has usually done an excellent job of stifling investigations of its practices. A 1991 survey of 800 IRS executives and managers by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics revealed that three out of four respondents felt entitled to deceive or lie when testifying before a congressional committee.
Their power is almost unchecked. The IRS has unlimited investigative tools at their disposal.
The FBI does too but they (often times) are subject to Constitutional checks and balances. The IRS operates under no such thing. If they want to go after someone or some organization they will.
Politics is nothing without power. That's what is on display here. So if House Speaker John Boehner wants someone from the IRS to go jail for misusing their power at the IRS, perhaps he should move Congress to start reining it in.