Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010
You are a financial supporter of the Westboro Baptist Church. You know, that posse of full-blown whackdoodles from Kansas that descends on our nation's most tragic moments, particularly military funerals, waving signs that say "Thank God for dead soldiers."
You don't (please say you don't) support Westboro by sending cash for their placard 'n' magic marker budget. What you do pay, infinitesimally, is that church's taxes, because it, like all houses of worship and so many other institutions, is exempt. You also pay the taxes of its contributors, because the money those folks fork over is tax-deductible.
Why is this notable this week? Because the Internal Revenue Service just got caught trying to crash the tea party, punk the patriots and deny conservative groups their 501(c)4 status. Such status exempts groups' income from taxes. It also allows "nonprofits" to do political activism without disclosing donors, as long as the organizations also promote social welfare.
To a politico, the distinction between "promoting social welfare" and "promoting the ideas and candidates that we believe will improve stuff" is a line about an atom wide. But that's an outrage for another day.
The IRS admits it's been obstructing and scrutinizing right-leaning applicants for 501(c)4 status. This deployment of the IRS -- exclusively against a political movement that opposes President Barack Obama like kids oppose calves-liver cupcakes -- is seriously nefarious. We should fire everyone involved and highlight their sins on a televised reality show called "So You Think You Can Screw Over Conservatives!"
After that, let's change the tax code so Americans don't have to fund movements and religions they don't agree with.
No institution, organization or individual should be exempt from taxes, nor should any donations be tax-deductible.
Nonprofits, hospitals, colleges, houses of worship and charities are sometimes the richest institutions on the block. Yet they generally don't help pay to sweep that block, or extinguish it if it catches fire, or to fight off another nation's army or fund school districts. And when their contributors throw them $100 or $1 million, these folks deduct those contributions off their tax liability, too.
Many tax-exempt institutions and organizations do wonderful things. When you identify one, support it with your cash. Why, though, should that entitle you to pay less into federal or state coffers, and thus force everyone else, who may hate the college, church or charity you're contributing to, to pay more?
You can argue that a soup kitchen or other charity does work governments can't afford to handle, thus saving taxpayers money, but it's a circular argument. The government is broke in the first place because of all the tax exemptions.
What's more, when a politician wants to fund the Department of Soup For All, I can vote for or against that person based on whether I agree. But when we set up a tax system to buttress charities and institutions, I have no way to withdraw support if I think everyone should work for their soup, or would rather give all my financial support to education and none to soup kitchens.
If a charity or church or college or "social welfare/political campaigning group" must escape taxes to survive, or needs tax-deductibility for its contributors to pull in enough funds to squeak by, it doesn't have enough voluntary support to exist. It shouldn't have any involuntary support at all.
Beneath the political skulduggery of what the IRS did in targeting these conservative groups lies a flawed question: What groups in America deserve tax-exempt status, and tax-deductibility for their patrons? The answer is "none."
The best way to avoid arguing over who should be members of the special, privileged classes is to not have any special, privileged categories at all.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.