It’s hard to find an American who can claim they are a fan of the IRS but it is harder to prove that the IRS is out to get you. So when evidence of targeting was discovered last year, there was uproar among citizens and the victims of the unfair harassment. It hit home with conservative groups who suspected their paperwork was being delayed or denied because of their political beliefs, and having the proof finally gave them, and Congress, the ability to fight back.
Under current law, social welfare groups, also known as 501(c)(4) groups, are allowed to hold political activities as long as it’s not the “primary” purpose of the organization. The IRS took advantage of the looseness of their own rule and began targeting groups that contained certain key conservative terms, such as “patriot,” by antagonizing them with intimate and unnecessary questioning, unlawful audits, and stalling their requests. When this came to light, the American people felt betrayed by their administration. Congress acted quickly and begin investigating the IRS, putting pressure and calling for the resignation of the Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, Lois Lerner.
When the IRS finally acted, the remedy was worse than the symptom. The proposed rules put forth in December 2013 broadened the definition of “political activity” and was viewed as many politicians and groups as an infringement on free speech. It would hamper the ability of these 501 (c)(4) groups abilities to hold programs such as voter education, because they would risk balancing their designated amount of political activities. Both sides of the aisle were seriously concerned with the proposed rules because it would infringe upon free speech and hinder political debate.
After countless hearings, subpoenas, and pressure from House Republicans, the IRS has announced that it will no longer move forward with the proposed rules it put forth in December and rewrite the rules for non-profit groups, 501(c)(4) groups and their political activity. They have not given a time table as to when the rules will be laid out, but it is good news that the rights of our non-profits are protected.
The IRS’s announcement is a win for not only these victims of targeting, but for free speech as well. The heat brought on the IRS by the House proves that by remaining steadfast and determined in your values, change can happen. I strongly encourage the IRS to produce a draft of the new set of rules quickly and that they focus on protecting the rights of these 501(c)(4) groups, and all non-profits, no matter the political party.