Monday, May 20, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Little Joe Knew About IRS Intimidation

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 19, 2013
Amiable old-line
Democratic politician

Somewhere in the Great Beyond, Little Joe is shaking his head and saying, “They’re still at it.”

Assuming they keep up with the latest Earthly news in the Great Beyond, that had to be the reaction of the late U.S. Sen. Joseph Montoya when he learned about the recent scandal over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

You see, the Peña Blanca native, who represented New Mexico in the Senate from 1964 to 1977, had personal knowledge of political targeting by the IRS.

As James Bovard wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week, “after Sen. Joe Montoya of New Mexico announced plans in 1972 to hold hearings on IRS abuses, the agency added his name to a list of tax protesters who were capable of violence against IRS agents.”

The New York Times in 1989 went into Montoya’s experience in greater detail as part of a lengthy article, titled “Misuse of the IRS: The Abuse of Power,” by David Burnham. The piece was adapted from Burnham’s book The I.R.S.: A Law Unto Itself.

Describing Montoya as an “amiable old-line Democratic politician,” Burnham said that in December 1972 — shortly after Montoya announced he would be holding hearings on the agency’s performance — the director of the IRS office in New Mexico began searching its files for information about the senator. Montoya at the time was chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, which approved the IRS budget.

“For an agency that had largely escaped regular Congressional oversight, Montoya’s announced plan may well have sounded like an open declaration of war,” the Times article said. “The Montoya subcommittee had lined up a number of powerful witnesses who were prepared to present evidence that the agency managers were inept. In addition, the first stories about how the Nixon Administration had misused the IRS were beginning to surface.”

IRS Commissioner Donald Alexander, who reportedly initially was enthusiastic about the investigation of Montoya’s taxes, called off the dogs in the summer of 1973. This was about the time that the Senate Watergate Committee — of which Montoya was a member — were holding televised hearings. Whether or not that had anything to do with calling off the investigation isn’t known.

The news of the IRS investigation into Montoya wasn’t made public for another two years. Speaking of Watergate, Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward, fresh off the success of All the President’s Men at that point, broke the news, which was leaked by IRS agents.

In that article, Montoya wasn’t treated as a victim of the IRS by being the subject of a politically motivated investigation. Instead, IRS sources accused Alexander of improperly halting the Montoya investigation. Woodward’s article quoted IRS officials saying they believed Alexander had halted the audit of Montoya because of his influence over the IRS budget.

“To this day, it is unclear whether the target was Alexander or Montoya or both,” Burnham wrote. “Alexander himself says a key motive was the hostility some IRS supervisors in the Southwest felt toward the Senator, a leading Hispanic politician.”

Woodward’s story even made People magazine in December 1975. “Montoya, protesting the charge is false, says it was leaked by ‘some bastards in New Mexico’ who were angry that he had uncovered mishandling by IRS subordinates of several tax cases involving his constituents.

As to his alleged chumminess with IRS chief Donald Alexander, the senator says: ‘I never talked to Alexander about my returns. I never asked him for a favor, and I never received one.’ Montoya says he would welcome an audit.”

Although the Woodward article noted that there was no evidence that Montoya had evaded taxes or had done anything to halt the IRS investigation, there were plenty of negative headlines and suspicions raised. Montoya lost his re-election the next year to Republican Harrison Schmitt. Montoya died in 1978.