February 25 2014

Nonprofits United Against the IRS

Patrice J. Lee

Liberal nonprofit groups are finally coming out publicly to decry the new proposed rules from the IRS that aim to curb behavior of nonprofit groups. As we’ve reported, the rules would crack down on organizations seeking tax exempt status if they engage in too much candidate-related political activity.

According to the new rules, 501(c) 4 groups (or social welfare) groups couldn't count among their social welfare work activities such as producing political advertisements, participating in "get-out-the-vote" or voter registration drives or holding events involving candidates

Now, as the social welfare groups on the left smelled the coffee and realized that their activities would get caught up on the IRS dragnet, they have put aside their ideological differences and ire against conservative “dark money” groups. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the League of Women, and Alliance for Justice have issued statements against the broad sweep of the rules and even led signature drives to get some of the rules removed.

This kind of bipartisanship should be recognized and celebrated especially by Congress, but that’s unlikely to happen. Liberal Congressmen, especially those facing tough elections this fall, have been prodding the IRS to play a more aggressive role in regulating outside groups that they expect to spend money in their races. And, according to a legal expert fighting on behalf of the harmed conservative groups, some powerful Democratic leaders in Congress have been restraining (perhaps even intimidating) liberal groups into remaining mum on this issue.

The Washington Times reports:

Almost all of the nearly 70,000 public comments submitted as of Monday night were vehemently opposed to the proposal, which would limit the ability of social welfare nonprofits — those organized under 501(c)(4) of the tax code — to even talk about candidates in the two months before an election.

Conservatives have been battling the Internal Revenue Service, with the Republican-controlled House planning votes this week to try to halt the rules. But opposition from the other side of the political spectrum also is growing as liberal groups take a deeper look at the rules and realize they would affect more than just tea party and high-dollar conservative organizations.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the proposed rule “threatens to discourage or sterilize an enormous amount of political discourse in America.”

Cleta Mitchell, a conservative lawyer who is representing tea party groups that sued the IRS for the targeting scandal, said … groups on all sides of the political spectrum are realizing they could be harmed.

“The ACLU’s comments filed a few weeks ago sent a shot across the bow and let liberal groups know it would be all right to speak out,” she said. “I think there was an effort through and by some powerful Democratic senators to intimidate liberal groups into keeping quiet, but that, thankfully, has not worked and more and more of those groups are publicly opposing the proposed rules.”

This is an interesting and encouraging twist of events.

During the IRS scandal that embarrassed the Administration and White House last year for their discriminatory and pernicious targeting of conservative groups, liberal groups were notably silent. If any liberal groups did speak out it was to affirm that the IRS’s added scrutiny, stalling, and disruptive tactics weren’t limited to just conservative groups, despite evidence otherwise.

The ACLU and other groups should have stood in solidarity with their nonprofit brethren on freedom grounds. However, if self-interest is what lights their fire, then we’re glad to see it lit.

Kudos to these groups for standing up to possible intimidation from Members of Congress who are willing to put the game of politics ahead of the interest of Americans and their freedoms to associate.

So far, the IRS has gotten away with its concerted efforts to monkey around with (conservative) groups. Finally, they are getting nonpartisan pushback that will hopefully curb their behavior or at least throw up a roadblock in their way.

 

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