The controversy over alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups has raised questions about the political climate within the IRS and its potential effect on agency decisions. In the last couple of weeks, I have written about the partisanship of lawyers in the IRS and other federal agencies in an attempt to inject some data into the conversation. In my first post, I revealed data showing that within the IRS in 2012, 95% of agency lawyers' reported contributions went to Obama rather than Romney. In a follow-up post, I showed that most other federal agencies had almost exactly the same political homogeneity.
In today's post, I report a reaction to my analysis from an IRS lawyer in Cincinnati who is not in the office involved in the current controversy. The IRS attorney was willing to comment publicly about my analysis on the condition of anonymity. The IRS lawyer's email provides a valuable perspective on the other side of the debate, one that attributes the support of Democrats by federal government attorneys to perceived hostility of Republicans toward government workers. The basic thesis of the email is that "if there is a lack of political diversity among federal government attorneys, it can be attributed almost entirely to the Republican Party agenda." The full text of the email is reprinted below.
The IRS lawyer's email raises three important points of comparison to my analysis. First, the IRS lawyer generally agrees that federal government attorneys substantially support Democrats but disagrees about why. He or she argues that these lawyers are Democrats in part because federal government lawyers convert from Republicans to Democrats once employed by the government. The reason, according to the IRS lawyer, is the perceived hostility of the Republican party to federal regulation and government workers. Finally, the IRS lawyer argues that even if the IRS lawyers are mostly Democrats, partisan politics is never an influence in the work of the agency.
I am publishing the IRS lawyer's letter (with permission) because I think it is a thoughtful and impassioned response on the other side, and especially because of the interesting "conversion thesis" that he or she suggests. It would certainly be a topic worthy of further study if we found that lawyers entered the IRS (or other agencies) roughly evenly divided along party lines but became socialized (assimilated?) into a left-leaning culture.
I don't deny that this IRS lawyer and his or her colleagues are attempting to exercise their authority in a non-partisan, even-handed way, and indeed that they succeed in doing so in the majority of cases. However, I would argue that partisan and ideological attachments affect opinions on concrete factual issues in ways not always appreciated by the actors themselves. I would offer the Martin-Zimmerman case as a concrete example, where Republicans and Democrats (and especially different racial groups) have diametrically opposed views of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in the case, with both sides acting in good faith. This is the reason why I argue that political diversity is so important among the federal government lawyers wielding discretionary power over the rest of us.
Here is the full text of the email with names and personal details redacted:
As an attorney who works for the IRS, I read with interest your post in the Tax Prof blog concerning political contributions by federal government attorneys. You express the view that the fact that the vast majority of contributions by federal government attorneys are to Democrats reflects a "lack (of) political diversity necessary to represent the American people" and a "dysfunctional culture in federal agencies," that "should make everyone uneasy." Quite frankly, I believe your post reflects a political bias on your part, and your confusing cause and effect.
Let us consider the fact that the Republican Party in recent years has adopted as a mantra that government is bad, and government regulation is bad. Thus, attorneys who hold those views will probably not seek employment in government. Government service will attract people who believe government service is worthwhile, and view government regulation positively. Is it any wonder that government attorneys are far more likely to contribute to Democrats than Republicans?
Moreover, the Republican Party has promoted the idea that government employees are bad. Especially over the past 5 years, the Republican Party has waged a nonstop campaign against government employees at all levels of government, arguing that we are lazy, overpaid, etc., etc., etc. There has not been a pay raise for federal employees for 3 years, and if the Republicans have their way, there won't be for at least another 3. In my agency, we are facing hiring freezes and major cuts in the resources we need to do our job. (And we are the agency that brings in government revenue!) The Republican House is pushing for a 25% cut in the IRS budget, to punish us for various trumped up offenses. Why are you surprised that government attorneys have a hostile view of the Republican Party and its agenda?
On a personal level, I can say that I have worked with many of the same attorneys for the past [redacted] years. During that time, the political views of a number of my colleagues have shifted from the Republicans to the Democrats. It is because they are sick of the attacks by the Republican Party, and an utter lack of respect for the hard work that we do.
I would note that partisan politics never figures into the work we do. We are simply committed to enforcing the tax laws as best we can. And many of us, regardless of political persuasion, would agree that Don Korb, a Bush appointee, was one of the best Chief Counsels we have ever had.
So if there is a lack of political diversity among federal government attorneys, it can be attributed almost entirely to the Republican Party agenda. That agenda makes me, and other federal government attorneys, very uneasy.