“YES” on the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014

Today the House will consider the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014 (H.R. 3865), sponsored by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI).  The bill prohibits the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from modifying the standard for determining whether an organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare for purposes of section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 2986.  The new IRS regulation in question, which the IRS does not even have the authority to make,  would “seriously infringe the First Amendment rights of advocacy organizations.”

Bradly A. Smith, a law professor at Capital University and former Federal Election Commission Chairman explained:

The changes fall outside IRS expertise and authority because they are concerned with campaign finance law and have nothing to do with raising federal revenue. This is an effort to regulate campaign finance disguised as tax regulation

Interestingly, unions, “which are the backbone of voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities” of President Obama’s political party, would not be affected at all by this oppressive proposed IRS regulation designed to chill political speech and political activity.  In fact, as has been suggested elsewhere, close scrutiny of this regulation suggests it was reverse-engineered to primarily target conservative groups while exempting many groups on the left.

H.R. 3865 comes in the wake of an attack on the “Tea Party and other conservative organizations documented by the IRS Inspector General.”  The House Ways and Means Committee and Chairman Dave Camp have found evidence demonstrating that right-leaning groups were targeted to an extent far beyond what was reported by the Inspector General.  Their investigation is ongoing and they are awaiting additional documents from the Inspector General.

The Heritage Foundation explains the proposed IRS regulation, issued last November, would only further suppress the political speech and activity of the groups currently under attack:

The current IRS regulation is so broad and ill-defined that the IRS applies a “facts and circumstances” test to determine what constitutes “political activity” by an organization. This test can vary greatly depending on the subjective views of the particular IRS bureaucrat applying the test.  IRS employees took advantage of this vague and subjective standard to unfairly delay granting tax-exempt status to Tea Party organizations and subject them to unreasonable scrutiny.

But the new proposed regulation would make things even worse.  It suffers from a crucial defect: the assumption by the IRS that engaging in political speech and political activity do not “promote social welfare.”  We live in a society in which an all-too-powerful federal government regulates almost every facet of Americans’ lives, businesses, and property.  Membership organizations such as the NRA or NARAL have to participate in the political life of the nation if they want to advance the particular issues their members care about.

The new regulation is also problematic because of “its sweeping view of ‘candidate-related political activity.’”  It includes nonpartisan voter registration, get-out-the-vote drives, and hosting of candidate databases or meet-the-candidate events.  There is nothing partisan about these groups informing their members.  As long as the organization is not engaging in express advocacy by telling its members who to vote for or against, Congress has determined that they should be able to engage in all these activities without penalty.

The new IRS rule also “unsubtly tries to impose a new rule that the Supreme Court already found unconstitutional in Citizens United v. FEC,” a rule prohibiting labor unions and corporations — both profit and nonprofit — from running any broadcast ad that “refers to a clearly identified” federal candidate within 30 days of a federal primary or 60 days of the general election.  Heritage explains:

The Supreme Court quite properly found this 30/60-day provision unconstitutional, since it suppressed speech “in the realm where its necessity is most evident: in the public dialogue preceding a real election” when Congress tends to schedule lots of votes.

The IRS rule would also implement language the Supreme Court found unconstitutional to define “candidate-related political activity” as a communication “within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election that refers to one or more clearly identified candidates.”  Such language has “an onerous ‘ongoing chill upon speech.’”

Heritage Action supports the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014 and will include it as a vote on our legislative scorecard.

Related:

Heritage Action Scorecard
Heritage: The Latest Effort by the IRS to Censor Political Speech
Tax Dodge: Panel Urges Public to Thwart IRS Effort to Torpedo Conservative Groups