Andrew, John A. III, Power to Destroy: the Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon.
Power to Destroy: The Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon is a factually intensive account of various attempts to politicize the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. The book describes the efforts of various politicians to employ the IRS to reward friends and punish enemies.
The author points out early that, "[p]olitical pressure on the IRS is a constant problem [and] the IRS commissioner is a political appointee" (p. 9). Power to Destroy reveals many of these pressures and details the responses of various IRS commissioners. It also reveals that the IRS had the ability to, and did, engage in extra-legal surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities with little pressure from the White House or other external forces (pp. 24, 256-257, 297).
Power to Destroy chronicles many of the political uses (abuses?) of the IRS during a relatively brief period, the 15 years from 1961 to 1975. The book begins with the inauguration of President Kennedy in 1961 and concludes with the "cleaning up" of the IRS after the resignation of President Nixon. Attempts to use the IRS for political purposes described in Power to Destroy were not limited to the White House, so the title of the book might be somewhat misleading.
President Kennedy, operating primarily through his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, enlisted the IRS to attack and undermine organized crime shortly after he took office. Soon thereafter, in 1962 the IRS instituted the Ideological Organization Project (IOP) in response to calls by the Kennedy Administration for an investigation of the operation and tax status of tax-exempt foundations. The targets of most IOP investigations were vocal "right-wing" tax-exempt foundations that had been criticizing the Kennedy Administration. However, for "balance," the IOP also investigated a handful of left-leaning tax-exempt organizations.
The assassination of President Kennedy caused no interruption of the lOP, and it continued during Lyndon Johnson's tenure as President (p. 37). It was during this period that the lOP directed much of its attention to the major tax-exempt organizations conducted by the religious right (e.g., Billy James Hargis's "'Christian Crusade"). It is not clear whether President Johnson had much interest in the IOP as the book does not cite his direct involvement in, or direction of, any IOP activity. Power to Destroy simply observes that, "[m]omentum begot momentum, and the [lOP] continued without objection from Kennedy's successor" (p. 39).
Many of the uses of the IRS by the Nixon White House were exposed during the various Watergate investigations. Power to Destroy makes it clear that Nixon wanted to control the IRS and use the agency to reward friends and punish enemies (pp. 179, 183, 187, 197). It was toward this end that the Nixon White House developed the well-known "enemies list" (p. 201). It was also during the Nixon Administration that the Special Service Staff (SSS) came into existence. The SSS was created "to gather intelligence on a wide array of individuals and groups who advocated social and political reform, or who simply objected to the policies of the Nixon administration" (p. 250). Power to Destroy describes the SSS as being "'far more extensive and intrusive" than the Nixon Enemies List (p. 250).
The ostensible author of Power to Destroy is John A. Andrew III, a Professor of History at Franklin & Marshall College for 27 years. Unfortunately, Professor Andrew died suddenly before the manuscript had been completed. Thus, the publisher "gently prodded [Professor Andrew's] family and friends to complete the manuscript" (p. viii). Power to Destroy is well annotated, and many of its 600-plus endnotes are very detailed. However, many endnotes reference the personal papers of politicians and bureaucrats, and these notes would be difficult for most readers to verify.
The book contains relatively few positive comments about the IRS. It may well be that the extensive research conducted to prepare the manuscript uncovered few good things to say. Although not very charitable toward the IRS, Power to Destroy does not always portray the IRS as a sinister force. Chapter 4 details the "lessons learned" from the IOP and suggests that, in the later stages of the IOP, the IRS was even-handed in dealing with the tax status of tax-exempt organizations. Although the IOP began as an attack on right-wing tax-exempt foundations, the IRS rethought many of its earlier attitudes toward these organizations and often decided, on the merits, not to revoke their tax-exempt status.
I enjoyed certain chapters of Power to Destroy more than others. Although 1 read the book from start to finish, I see no reason why one could not "sample" chapters, reading those deemed most interesting first and omitting others entirely. Many chapters in Power to Destroy could stand alone and, with one or two exceptions, do not depend greatly on others. I found the discussion of Jimmy Hoffa, Senator Long, and the IRS (Chapter 9), Nixon's Enemies List (Chapter 11), and the Special Services Staff (Chapters 13 and 14) to be both interesting and relatively easy reading. This may be because I had some interest in or familiarity with the issues discussed in these chapters.
On the other hand, I found the first three chapters of Power to Destroy, involving the use of the IRS to investigate and challenge conservative tax-exempt foundations, to be more difficult reading. These chapters were informative in that they revealed the countervailing political forces brought to bear on the IRS in the 1960s and the inability of the IRS to deal with politically charged issues. These early chapters seem to suffer from an overload of facts. It's as though the author felt compelled to include every detail uncovered in his research.
A cursory reading of Power to Destroy makes clear that the IRS is a large organization devoid of an unwavering unity of purpose. The IRS is headed by a political appointee who changes from administration to administration (if not more often). In addition, parts of the IRS may be sensitive to shifting political winds, while others may not be. Although a particular IRS Commissioner might receive marching orders from the White House, there is no guarantee that the Commissioner or his minions will execute them. Power to Destroy cites a number of instances where presidents could not control the IRS and times at which IRS Commissioners did not accommodate presidential requests (pp. 209, 219, 221,292). There were also times that IRS developed negative information on presidential "friends" (p. 238).
Much of Power to Destroy is interesting, and parts are fascinating. At the same time, most of the book is not light reading. Several chapters are overburdened with facts and could be tedious (even for those accustomed to the minutiae of the U.S. tax law). For example, three of the chapters devoted to the Nixon years suffer from an overwhelming cast of characters--literally, dozens and dozens of bureaucrats are named. Several sittings will probably be needed to digest the book's 16 chapters and 368 pages.
All things considered, Power to Destroy is worthwhile, particularly for those interested in the history of U.S. taxation, U.S. tax administration, and/or U.S. political processes.
DENNIS J. GAFFNEY
University of Illinois at Springfield
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|Author:||Gaffney, Dennis J.|
|Publication:||Journal of the American Taxation Association|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
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