The deadline for the IRS’s rule changes is looming closer and closer and the din and clamor in Capitol Hill is becoming deafening. Left of center groups are increasingly joining the chorus of conservative voices outraged over the most recent power grab by the nation’s taxman.
At the center of the fracas are the much-talked about 501(c)(4) groups, social welfare groups which have taken an active role in educating the public about candidates and issues relevant to today’s complex political ecosystem. Under rules in place for decades, as long as the net spending of these groups is devoted to “charitable, educational, or recreational purposes,” then they are allowed to operate under a tax exempt status. Unfortunately it appears that the IRS is not interested in political education in the least. Since many of these groups focus on analyzing current policy and informing the public on issues which directly affect them, they are bound to reveal information or highlight issues which may be detrimental to current political leaders.
This is why in 2013 it was revealed that the IRS had been systematically targeting and harassing 501(c)(4) groups which the agency perceived to have a tea party slant. Unfortunately as egregious as it was to hound and suppress the free speech of dozens of groups, the hammer of justice has failed to fall on any officials involved in the fiasco. Under the excuse that the current regulations are “confusing”, the IRS seeks to evade any legal repercussions. Furthermore, what the IRS sought to do through stealth and subterfuge it is now attempting to codify into law—a plan it turns out has been in the works, in secret, since well before the first IRS scandal broke
At risk are nation-wide Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts, which under the rule changes would be considered unacceptable political activity. As unpartisan and beneficial as they are, voter registration drives would be sacrificed at the altar of corruption and intimidation. If only for this reason, all Americans from all sides of the spectrum should stand up in opposition to this anti-democratic crack-down.
But this is not all that would be considered contrary to 501(c)(4) primary purposes. Essentially any communication about anyone who will be a candidate for election or appointment in either a primary or general election anywhere within a particular window within 60 days would meet the ire of the new IRS.
Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have also come out against the IRS out of fear that the new rules “would present a serious chill on free speech.” When left and right come together against an issue, policy makers should take note.
Law makers have taken note of the issue and have begun to act. H.R. 3865 has just passed the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives in what appears to be a positive step towards preserving American’s right of free speech. This bill would prevent the IRS from changing the rules for a year. Though it is not a concrete solution to the problem, it begins to move the discussion in the right direction.
February 27th: this is the day that the hammer will drop. Contact your representatives, contact the IRS, make sure that the law continues to protect citizens and non-profits from an increasingly political agency.