The Internal Revenue Service wants to set tougher standards for how much political activity is too much political activity. If you’re like us, that sentence sends chills up your spine.
While the IRS has never been an institution that has commanded outsized admiration from Americans, the agency must be regarded with elevated suspicion in light of last year’s revelations that it was going out of its way to delay or prevent conservative groups from earning tax-exempt 501(c)4 status under the tax code. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., revealed last week that the scandal went deeper than we previously knew, with the IRS also conducting surveillance on existing 501(c)4s, the targets overwhelmingly (83 percent) consisting of right-leaning groups.
It’s against this backdrop that the agency is currently proposing new rules limiting the political activity that may be engaged in by “social welfare” organizations, the term of art used to describe 501(c)4 groups. Those rules would classify activity such as voter registration drives, the preparation of voter guides and get-out-the-vote efforts as “candidate-related political activity,” even if it is nonpartisan and doesn’t advocate for the election of any specific individual. Organizations that engage in too much of that behavior (and the IRS has yet to define how much is too much) would be at risk of losing their nonprofit status.
We’ll readily concede that the “social welfare” categorization of many of these organizations is misleading. No one really believes that Karl Rove’s conservative Crossroads GPS organization exists for purposes beyond helping Republicans any more than that a liberal 501(c)4 like MoveOn.org has motives beyond helping Democrats. The IRS’ proposed solution, however, is worse than the underlying problem.
Rather than finding new ways to limit these organizations — and to continue the kabuki dance in which we all pretend to believe they’re organized for something other than political purposes — we, instead, ought to be bringing them out into the open. What harm will befall the country if activist groups of any stripe can actually be honest about the candidates they’re supporting and the causes in which they believe? Surely that’s better than the system of legal fiction that we currently employ.
It’s true that the confluence of money and politics can prove dangerous, but the greater danger surely stems from empowering those who govern to restrict the manner in which those who are governed can express their political viewpoints. That’s the reason that liberal and conservative groups alike are opposed to the proposed IRS rules.
A free people deserve the right to voice their political opinions without state interference — a task made immensely more difficult by the IRS’ new proposal. For that reason, the proposed rules deserve to be abandoned with haste.
— From the Orange County Register