By LES BLUMENTHAL
January 06, 2006
One senator called it an "outrageous violation of the public trust."
IRS officials acknowledge party affiliation information had been routinely collected for several months, but in December asked the vendor involved to start screening it out.
"The bottom line is that we have never used this information," said John Lipold, an IRS spokesman. "There are strict laws in place that forbid it."
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the IRS, said the collection of information on a person's party affiliation could undermine the agency's credibility.
"While I recognize that it is against the law for any IRS employees to allow their official actions to be influenced by a taxpayer's political affiliation, it is nonetheless unnecessary and risky for your employees to be aware of such information," Murray said in a letter to IRS Commissioner Mark Everson.
Residents of 20 states and the District of Columbia have to provide a party affiliation when registering. Voter registration information is publicly available. Murray said she learned about the problem from the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, Colleen Kelly. The IRS is part of the Treasury Department.
Kelly said in an interview Thursday that several IRS employees had complained to the union about the practice. She said IRS officials weren't even aware of it until she wrote them in late December.
"They seemed to think it was OK," Kelly said. "But we have a lot of questions."
In a letter to Kelly, Deputy IRS Commissioner John Dalrymple said the party identification information was automatically collected through a "database platform" supplied by an outside contractor that among other places searched voter registration rolls. The IRS is trying to track down people who aren't paying their taxes.
"This information is appropriately used to locate information on taxpayers whose accounts are delinquent," he said.
Murray and Kelly, however, remained skeptical.
"This agency should not have that type of information," Murray said in a telephone interview from Seattle. "No one should question whether they are being audited because of party affiliation."
Kelly said the collection of such data was even more troubling because the IRS intends to start using private collection agencies later this year to collect back taxes.
"We think Congress should suspend IRS plans to use private collections agencies until these questions have been resolved," she said.
According to Murray's office, the 20 states in which the IRS collected party affiliation information were Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor