In the 2012 presidential election the IRS managed to stifle a whole raft of Tea Party groups throughout the country by stalling on their application for 501(c)(4) status. The IRS would ask endless bizarre questions and then never deny their application so they could not appeal. No decision, no appeal.
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When this hit the news after President Obama was reelected he said he was shocked, yes, shocked that there was political gamesmanship going on at the IRS. Democrat senators weren’t shocked. They had asked the IRS to stop giving nonprofit status to Tea Party groups.
Now the 2014 mid-term elections are coming up and the Obama administration, through its Treasury Department, is going to codify what the IRS did allegedly on its own during the 2012 election. It made the announcement during the Thanksgiving weekend when most were watching football games or in a tryptophan-induced stupor. In other words, nobody was paying attention.
The deadline to comment on the new rules is Feb. 27.
The original law for 501(c)(4) groups was created in 1959 for civic leagues and social welfare groups. Existing rules say the groups can qualify for social welfare status and donor anonymity if they are “primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good of the people of a community.”
We don’t see the IRS or the U.S. Treasury as capable of regulating free speech, let along deciding what is “the common good of the people of the community.” In fact, they shouldn’t be doing it at all. It’s bad enough that there are clearly those whose taxes are audited for political purposes. And the IRS is supposed to figure out how to fine those who don’t buy Obamacare. Now the IRS wants to regulate political speech, though it’s clear it already did that in 2012 by stonewalling Tea Party-style groups or any groups that appeared conservative.
These groups have as much of a right to educate the public about issues and the size and reach of the federal government as the Sierra Club or the unions.
As noted in a Washington Post analysis Nov. 29 by Matea Gold, “‘Treasury and the IRS drew a very deep and troubling line in the sand,’ the Alliance for Justice, an association of more than 100 nonprofit groups on the left, said in a statement. ‘Though the new definitions attempt to clarify existing rules, they also create a danger to citizen participation in our democracy.’”
That is an exception, though. Generally Republicans in Congress are opposed, especially while they are still investigating the IRS scandal of target Tea Party-style groups, but Democrats in Congress support new rules.
Among some of the proposed rules are outlawing voters guides and voter registration by social welfare groups. The voter guides couldn’t mention political candidates, even if the guides only discussed their voting record, something any number of nonprofit groups do now, saying how well they vote on environmental issues or how well they vote on business issues.
Among the rules proposed is the following, which would be a proscribed activity: “Holding an event within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) at which a candidate appears as part of the program.”
God forbid that somebody with a 501(c)(4) organization should sponsor a candidate forum to inform the public within two months of a general election.
“This is part of ongoing efforts within the IRS that are improving our work in the tax-exempt area,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel, according to the IRS’s Website on this issue. “Once final, this proposed guidance will continue moving us forward and provide clarity for this important segment of exempt organizations.”
“Improving our work in the tax exempt area?” That means improving their ability to stab the American public in the back.