When the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Oversight grills the Internal Revenue Service’s John Koskinen next week about his scandal-plagued agency, it would do well to ask him to defend its proposed guidelines for the operation of “social welfare groups.” If finalized as written, these guidelines would effectively “gag” many organizations that engage in the nation’s policy discussions.
The IRS now claims that the targeting of conservatives was the result of ambiguous rules rather than a deliberate strategy to silence conservative groups that might oppose the Obama Administration’s policy objectives. While the IRS has been stonewalling Congress on the targeting scandal, it has been secretly preparing these new rules to expand its power and legalize its past abuses.
This is absurdly corrupt on its face. The same people who purposefully and illegally put their collective thumbs on conservative groups are now claiming to “fix” the problem. You don’t let the proverbial fox guard the hen house, or write new security procedures for the chicken coop. This is a sly, opportunistic power grab, nothing more. It is an attempt to legalize political corruption.
A surprising number of liberal groups, otherwise normally aligned with the Obama Administration, oppose these new rules because they understand that giving government the power to selectively silence and target groups based on the content of their speech is profoundly dangerous and violates fundamental American values found in the Constitution. These liberal groups who don’t like the new rules are getting enormous pressure from the White House to change their position on the new rules, something that in and of itself is instructive.
Under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, a qualifying “social welfare” group must “operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people.” Up to now the IRS has said that these groups can participate in some political or election oriented activity, as long as it is not their “primary” activity. Those who donate to such groups do not receive a tax deduction. These groups must disclose their large donors to the IRS, but not to the public.