New IRS rules look to destroy political speech . . . retroactively
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The more we study the recent actions of the Internal Revenue Service, the more horrifying it becomes. The IRS is on a crusade to silence tax-exempt 501c(3) organizations that engage in political activism of just about any kind. And the latest twist is that the IRS is going to go back in time and penalize groups who do this before the proposed rules are even final.
This is simply stunning. Yet they’re doing it.
We had to go back a few months to really dig up the details on this (thanks for your excellent work, Clark Barrow!) and it was worth the effort. CNBC explained what was going on in detail back in November:
The rules would not prohibit political activity by nonprofit organizations. But by establishing clearer limits for campaign-related spending, the new rules could have a significant impact on the big-spending nonprofit groups that have played a central role in national politics in recent years, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on political advertising and voter outreach.
The administration’s proposal would apply to nonprofit groups organized under Section 501(c)4 of the tax code, which are permitted tax exemption in exchange for devoting themselves primarily to the promotion of “social welfare,” which under current rules can include some political activity.
The largest political nonprofits — such as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, co-founded by Karl Rove, the Republican operative, or Americans for Prosperity, backed by the conservative philanthropists Charles and David Koch, have exploited that provision to spend heavily on election-themed advertising.
But the proposed guidance, a broad swath of campaign-related activity — including any ads that mention a candidate within 60 days of an election — would be excluded from the definition of “social welfare.”
“Depending on the details, this could be dramatic,” said Marcus S. Owens, a former chief of the I.R.S.‘s exempt organizations division.
The rules would also effect political activity by conservative and liberal grass-roots organizations, including Tea Party groups whose complaints of aggressive treatment and harassment by I.R.S. employees led to the resignation of several high-ranking agency officials last spring.
The rules are only in the “proposed” stage right now, but that is not good news for Tea Party groups. Here’s why. The IRS intends to apply the rules retroactively once they’re final. So if you’re a Tea Party group gearing up for political activity in 2014 and you need your exemption, you’d better realize that if you conduct business as normal for the bulk of this year, the IRS will come back after the fact and nail you to the wall, accusing you of violating their rules, demanding repayments and imposing all kinds of fines and penalties.
You may be completely in compliance with existing rules, but that doesn’t matter. Once the IRS rule changes are final, they will apply them retroactively and nail you.
All this stems from the Obama Administration’s war on tax-exempt groups categorized as “social welfare” groups that are engaged in political activity. Obama is using this distinction as an excuse to sick the IRS on Tea Party groups with all kinds of audits and inquisitions, and his excuse for doing it is that political activists aren’t really “social welfare” groups. That’s strictly a dodge, though. As Rob reported yesterday, vulnerable Senate Democrats are desperate for the IRS to help them by targeting conservative organizations. This is how they’re doing it. The message to Tea Party groups is clear: Do not engage in political activity in 2014, or we will come back after the fact and nail you.
This must be resisted. Otherwise, all political freedom is in jeopardy.