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Politics and the IRS longtime bedfellows, says USU prof

For one Utah State University professor, the admission that IRS agents gave extra scrutiny to groups associated with the Tea Party is no surprise.

In fact, professor William Shughart says it fits into a pattern of politics influencing the agency’s practices. Shughart did a study more than a decade ago that found people were significantly less likely to be audited if they lived in a battlefield state or if their congress member was a member of the IRS oversight committee.

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Co-authored with Michael Reksulak of Georgia Southern University and Marilyn Young of Lipscomb University, the 2001 report analyzed individual tax returns (not personal information) from 1992 to 1997.

"If you are a member of one of those committees and you know, in part, that your re-election prospects depend upon how your constituents are treated by federal bureaucrats and you start getting complaints from some of your campaign contributors that the IRS is putting its heavy hand on them, you just get on the telephone," said Shughart in a statement. "You call the director of the IRS and say, ‘Lay off. What are you doing?’ It happens all the time."

He pointed to Franklin Roosevelt, who used the agency against critics of the New Deal and Richard Nixon, who influenced the agency to "microscopically" examine the tax returns of people on his "enemies list."

As for the latest IRS scandal, "I was not surprised at all," Shughart said. "What I was surprised about, if anything, was the early protests by the IRS itself that it was a local matter, a number of rogue agents ... that’s not true."

And Shughart is something of a living example of his own work. The year after the study was published, "I got audited," he said.

— Lindsay Whitehurst

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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