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The I.R.S. Proposes One Rule to Silence Us All


Douglas Kellogg
February 20, 2014

“IRS Reg-134417-13” – it is hard to conceptualize how something tracked by this innocuous looking and thoroughly bureaucratic series of numbers could silence thousands, if not millions, of American voices. But that is the effect bureaucracy has, isn’t it? It turns drastic government overreach into mundane, procedural, and overly worded actions. This proposed rule would cripple the ability of non-profit groups to exercise speech.

It wasn’t enough to unfairly go after Tea Party groups that were applying for non-profit status. The investigation into exactly what went on in that case is still ongoing, but now the IRS has the hubris to pursue existing groups, Tea Party and otherwise – hey, just in case anybody got through!

The list of those affected expands far and wide. Not only are massive numbers of conservative, free-market, and similar organizations opposed (like National Taxpayers Union, Heritage Action, etc.), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is concerned with the danger of the proposed rule change. Even groups that are involved in simple voter registration drives would be affected.

NTU now has a petition up so you can lend your voice to that chorus of opposition, click HERE.

If the IRS’s targeting of applicants for tax-exempt status was a smart bomb that gave the impression (perhaps correctly) of some political motive behind it, this proposed rule change would look a lot like the carpet bombing equivalent… Sure, there seems to be a general area they are focusing on, but the damage would spread far and wide.

One thing the rule would specifically do is put an organization’s non-profit status at risk should they make any public comment that simply references a candidate (or even just a party in some circumstances) for any office 30 days out of a primary election, or 60 days out of a general election.

The terms the I.R.S. would be looking for as violations have potential to be interpreted very broadly, leaving a lot of power in the hands of the judge – in this case the I.R.S.

A wild potential example could be: if a group has a position on a tax issue on their site permanently, say abolishing a sales tax, and urges citizens to contact public officials in support of doing so. Now, a candidate for such and such is running and has this issue in his platform. If it’s 61 days before Election Day, everything’s fine, if it’s day 59, that could potentially mean the end of that group’s non-profit status.

Because the issue itself can be viewed as characterizing the candidate, and a website is “public communication”, the new I.R.S. rule could very well be taken this far. There could be even more surprising potential applications for this rule, a very unpleasant thought.

Why is this even a concern for the I.R.S., when the Federal Election Commission polices these things, is a very good question brought up by Center for Competitive Politics.

Whatever motivations are behind these power plays may remain shrouded, but their free speech-crushing results and absence of logic should be enough for the growing, bipartisan, opposition to stand on.


 

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