February 28 2014

The Power of Denying Free Speech

Charlotte Hays

While no smoking gun linking the IRS targeting of conservative groups to a specific order from on high will likely ever be found, the misconduct at the IRS is nevertheless the quintessential Obama era scandal. The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel explains:

Few presidents understand the power of speech better than Barack Obama, and even fewer the power of denying it to others.

That's the context for understanding the White House's unprecedented co-option of the Internal Revenue Service to implement a political campaign to shut up its critics and its opponents.

Perhaps the biggest fiction of this past year was that the IRS's targeting of conservative groups has been confronted, addressed and fixed. The opposite is true. The White House has used the scandal as an excuse to expand and formalize the abuse.

Shortly after the IRS inspector general revealed the IRS abuses to the public in a report, Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel issued a proposal supposedly designed for repairing the mess. It was a stunningly cynical move: Werfel’s plan would make the abuses permanent.

The plan would allow organizations to have an “expedited” process towards tax-exempt status in return for their agreeing to restrict the time spent on political activity to 40 percent. Under the present system, such organizations—known as 501(c)(4)s—can spend 49 percent of their time on political activity. So the Obama administration would succeed in reducing the volume of speech disagreeable to it.

Some groups jumped at the chance to get tax exempt status, even with more limitations on what they could do. Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots, however, rejected the deal, saying it was unfair of the government to force some organizations to play by a different set of rules.

Here’s what happened:

Not long after [the group declined to take the deal], the IRS was back hounding the Tea Party Patriots with new requirements. In addition to re-demanding information that Ms. Martin's group had already supplied, the IRS insisted on new details, like the groups' fundraising letters from 2012.

Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing targeted groups, tells me one of her clients suffered the same fate. The IRS called to ask if the group would take part in its expedited process. When it turned down the IRS, the government agency hit the group with new questions about its activities. This all happened last summer.

As of last week, Ms. Martin's group had been waiting three years and three months for its 501(c)(4) letter. (Before Mr. Obama was president, the average time was three weeks.) The targeting has had its intended effect: Ms. Martin notes that supporters of her group have asked to be dissociated, for fear of their own IRS audit.

Now comes the fitting end to this spectacle. Late last week Ms. Martin's name appeared among those scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee this Thursday. On Wednesday, she got a call from the supposedly apolitical IRS. Her group's application for 501(c)(4) status? Suddenly, miraculously approved.

When President Obama talked about his coming transformation of the United States, how many thought that this would be accomplished by traducing our historic freedoms—including freedom of speech and religious liberty?

Strassel’s piece is a must-read.  

 

 

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