Paul L. Caron

Monday, December 23, 2013

The IRS Scandal, Day 228

IRS Logo 2National Review:   The IRS and the Tea Party: Resist the IRS — And Protect the Political Process, by James V. DeLong:

The principle involved in the recent IRS scandal appears to be that every group with an interest in twisting the electoral process to its own advantage is exempted; only those groups that stand for disinterested good government are muzzled.

The IRS recently proposed rules to “provide guidance” to tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations concerning restrictions on their political activities. As Kimberly Strassel noted in the Wall Street Journal, this notice represents the IRS’s response to the revelations about its use of the tax laws to hamstring tea-party groups before the 2012 election.

The new rules are designed to eliminate the citizen groups before the 2014 election. They would have the effect of squelching tea-party communications with the public “referring to” a candidate or party, with especially tough restrictions during the run-up to an election. The blacklist applies to “direct or indirect candidate-related political activity.” Covered activities include direct funding, volunteer work, sponsorship of debates, preparation of voter guides, website maintenance, e-mail or social-media campaigns, and registration drives. If an unspecified, but too-large, portion of a group’s activities falls within the definitions, its tax-exempt status is jeopardized.

The proposal does not apply to political activities conducted by unions, business organizations, agricultural associations, or similar entities. Nor does it apply to charities, which are supposed to be more stringently regulated than social-welfare organizations, but which frequently push the envelope. And as salt in the wound, the K Street lobbyists’ social-welfare groups, which serve as go-betweens and bagmen for lobbyists and government officials but do not communicate with the public, would also be untouched. Washington organizations with broad membership out in the nation at large would, however, be stifled along with the tea-party groups.

The IRS rules might not survive legal scrutiny, but this is irrelevant. Once final, the rules would be applied retroactively, so the IRS can leave them in the “proposed” stage until after November 2014, which makes them unreviewable by a court even as they paralyze the citizen groups. The IRS could also start applying the new standards immediately by requiring that organizations requesting tax-exempt status promise to abide by them. ...

[T]ea-party groups ... are clearly social-welfare organizations, under the IRS definition of “promoting the common good and general welfare of the community.” Compared with other exempt organizations, such as unions or business associations, the tea-party groups are uniquely selfless in that they do not seek advantages for themselves. They must be politically active, because their function is to educate the public and to encourage elected officials and candidates who embrace tea-party values, such as limited government and the rule of law. ...

[T]ea-party political activity is offensive to the IRS — so the current notice classifies any references to candidates, even in voter guides or open forums, as political. Then, to nail the door shut, the proposal contemplates eliminating the “primary purpose” test and forbidding social-welfare organizations from engaging in any political activity. (Repeat: This proposal does not apply to unions, business associations, or other organizations exempt under other subsections.)

Obviously, this proposal has nothing to do with protecting tax revenues. The idea that a tea-party group, run on a shoestring and the energy of volunteers, threatens the collection of the nation’s taxes is a joke. ...

The proposal has nothing to do with revenue protection, and should be held by a court to be ultra vires. ​Why is it within either the mission or the institutional competence of the IRS to decide that a particular political activity should be squelched? As long as an organization is not being used for tax evasion or avoidance schemes, the IRS has no legitimate interest. ...

[T]he discrimination of this proposal is blatant. Tea-party groups and other 501(c)(4)s are hit, but not the myriad organizations granted exemptions by other subsections of 501, such as unions, trade associations, cooperatives, and business groups. Even charities, which are supposed to be more stringently regulated, escape the proposal.

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As is so often the case with the National Review, the writer does not let any facts interfere with his opinions, which are rubbish because they are fact-free. The writer assumes that C4 is an appropriate designation for the organizations he describes.
As with the dogma of geocentrism, begin with a falsehood and you end up with nonsense.

Posted by: David Cay Johnston | Dec 23, 2013 11:46:22 AM

> The Tea Party groups are not "good government" advocates by any measure.

Oh really? Let's see some of the "measures" that separate tea party groups, or groups advocating for voter integrity laws, from those advocating for say, open borders?

How about from OFA? Acorn?

Posted by: Andy Freeman | Dec 23, 2013 10:36:09 AM

The new rules are not designed to eliminate the Tea Party groups. The new rules are an attempt to shift such groups to recognition of exempt status under section 527--which is precisely where they should be. The Tea Party groups are not "good government" advocates by any measure. They are political advocacy groups and they can retain their tax exemptions under section 527. They'll just have to come clean about where their money is coming from, something we all should know.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Dec 23, 2013 7:56:57 AM