TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Friday, December 13, 2013

The IRS Scandal, Day 218

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal:  IRS Targeting: Round Two; The First Time Around, Targeting Conservatives Was a Secret. Now, Not So Much, by Kimberley A. Strassel:

President Obama keeps claiming that he had no knowledge of the Internal Revenue Service's abusive muzzling of conservative groups. That line is hard to swallow given that his Treasury and IRS are back at it—this time in broad daylight.

In the media blackout of Thanksgiving week, the Treasury Department dumped a new proposal to govern the political activity of 501(c)(4) groups. The administration claims this rule is needed to clarify confusing tax laws. Hardly. The rule is the IRS's new targeting program—only this time systematic, more effective, and with the force of law.

That this rule was meant to crack down on the White House's political opponents was never in doubt. What is new is the growing concern by House Ways and Means Committee investigators that the regulation was reverse-engineered—designed to isolate and shut down the same tea party groups victimized in the first targeting round. Treasury appears to have combed through those tea party applications, compiled all the groups' main activities, and then restricted those activities in the new rule.

"The committee has reviewed thousands of tax exempt applications," says House Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp. "The new regulation so closely mirrors the abused tea-party group applications, it leads me to question if this new proposed regulation is simply another form of targeting."

Here's how it works. To get or keep tax-exempt status, 501(c)(4) organizations must devote a majority of their work to their "primary" social-welfare purpose. Most tea party groups were set up with a primary purpose of educating Americans on pressing problems—the size of government, the erosion of the Constitution—and did so mainly via nonpartisan voter guides, speakers forums, pamphlets or voter-registration drives.

What the proposed Treasury/IRS regulation would do is to re-categorize all these efforts as "political activity"—thereby making it all but impossible for tea party groups to qualify for 501(c)(4) status. Say an outfit's primary purpose is educating voters on our unsustainable debt, which it does mainly with a guide explaining the problem and politicians' voting records. Under the new rule, that guide is now "political activity" (rather than "social welfare"), which likely loses the group tax-exempt status. ...

Everybody was outraged to discover the IRS was secretly targeting the president's political opponents. They might be more outraged that the White House is now using the IRS to do the same thing in the brazen light of day.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2013/12/the-irs-scandal-11.html

IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink

Comments