WHEN PRESIDENT OBAMA discovered that the IRS was looking into the tax-exempt status of conservative groups, he said:

"The IRS has to operate with absolute integrity."

The earliest time that I recall this type of IRS activity was during the Nixon administration, back in the early '70s. Of course, then the IRS was targeting liberal-leaning groups. That administration was rife with partisan political activity extending all the way to the Department of Justice. I abhorred it then, and I abhor it now.

We don't yet know if any political appointees were involved and to what extent, but it is clear that a number of civil servants were. Most of the IRS employees are civil-service employees supposedly acting without political bias. This situation seems to indicate that some act with bias. It is certainly not good for the nation as a whole and for the tax-collection apparatus in particular. Those involved deserve rather severe punishment, including loss of jobs.

The integrity of the IRS was hurt in another way back in the '80s right here in Philly. A number of IRS examining agents were accepting bribes to look the other way. Some went to prison, and all lost their jobs. I was particularly dismayed by all of this, because several of the guilty parties had been my students.

Which is the more heinous crime? Both involve corruption, but only one is a threat to our political system. One involves personal monetary gain, the other political advantage.

It is still possible that the current situation was nonpolitical. It may be that IRS screening procedures discovered that organizations with the keywords in their names were too political to qualify for 501(c)(4) classification as tax-exempt. It also may be that the employees responsible were looking to the IRS Code for guidance where the words are " . . . exclusively for promotion of social welfare . . . " as opposed to the regulations, which say " . . . primarily engaged . . . "

In any event, we need "absolute integrity" in all government activities, lest we lose faith.

Email Harry Gross at harrygrossDN@gmail.com, or

write to him at Daily News, 801 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19107.

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