This column has already told the story of Frank VanderSloot, an Idaho businessman who last year contributed to a group supporting Mitt Romney. An Obama campaign website in April sent a message to those who’d donate to the president’s opponent. It called out Mr. VanderSloot and seven other private donors by name and occupation and slurred them as having “less-than-reputable” records.
Mr. VanderSloot has since been learning what it means to be on a presidential enemies list. Just 12 days after the attack, the Idahoan found an investigator digging to unearth his divorce records. This bloodhound – a recent employee of Senate Democrats – worked for a for-hire opposition research firm.
Now Mr. VanderSloot has been targeted by the federal government. In a letter dated June 21, he was informed that his tax records had been “selected for examination” by the Internal Revenue Service. The audit also encompasses Mr. VanderSloot’s wife, and not one, but two years of past filings (2008 and 2009).
Mr. VanderSloot, who is 63 and has been working since his teens, says neither he nor his accountants recall his being subject to a federal tax audit before. He was once required to send documents on a line item inquiry into his charitable donations, which resulted in no changes to his taxes. But nothing more – that is until now, shortly after he wrote a big check to a Romney-supporting Super PAC.
Two weeks after receiving the IRS letter, Mr. VanderSloot received another – this one from the Department of Labor. He was informed it would be doing an audit of workers he employs on his Idaho-based cattle ranch under the federal visa program for temporary agriculture workers.
The H-2A program allows tens of thousands of temporary workers in the U.S.; Mr. VanderSloot employs precisely three. All are from Mexico and have worked on the VanderSloot ranch – which employs about 20 people – for five years. Two are brothers. Mr. VanderSloot has never been audited for this, though two years ago his workers’ ranch homes were inspected. (The ranch was fined $8,400, mainly for too many “flies” and for “grease build-up” on the stove. God forbid a cattle ranch home has flies.)
This letter requests an array of documents to ascertain whether Mr. VanderSloot’s “foreign workers are provided the full scope of protections” under the visa program: information on the hours they’ve worked each day and their rate of pay, an explanation of their deductions, copies of contracts. And on and on.
Perhaps all this is coincidence. Perhaps something in Mr. VanderSloot’s finances or on his ranch raised a flag. Americans want to believe the federal government performs its duties without fear or favor.
Only in this case, Americans can have no such confidence. Did Mr. Obama pick up the phone and order the screws put to Mr. VanderSloot? Or – more likely – did a pro-Obama appointee or political hire or career staffer see that the boss had an issue with this donor, and decide to do the president an unasked-for election favor? Or did he or she simply think this was a duty, given that the president had declared Mr. VanderSloot and fellow donors “less than reputable”?
Mr. VanderSloot says he “expected the public beatings” from the left after the naming, but he “also wondered whether government agencies, anxious to please their boss, would take notice of the target he had apparently placed on me. Now that I’m being singled out for audits, I can’t help but wonder whether there is a connection.”
As for other Romney donors: “It is un-American and irresponsible for a president to target individual, law-abiding citizens for political retribution, and it is inconceivable that any U.S. agency would stoop to do the bidding for this campaign’s silliness,” says Louis Bacon, an investor and conservationist who also made the Obama list.
We don’t know what happened, and that’s the problem. Entrusted with extraordinary powers, Mr. Obama has the duty to protect and defend all Americans – regardless of political ideology. By having his campaign target a private citizen for his politics, the president forswore those obligations. He both undermined public faith in federal institutions and put his employees in an impossible situation.
Every thinking American must henceforth wonder if Mr. VanderSloot has been targeted for inquiry because of his political leanings. And every federal servant must wonder if his inquiries into an Obama enemy will bring suspicion or disgrace on the agency – even if the inquiry is legitimate.
As for Mr. VanderSloot, to what authority should he appeal if he believes this to be politically motivated – given the Justice Department on down is also controlled by the man who targeted him? (The White House did not return an email requesting comment.)
If this isn’t a chilling glimpse of a society Americans reject, it is hard to know what is. It’s why presidents are held to different rules, and should not keep lists. And it’s why Mr. Obama has some explaining to do.