The NAACP Realizes the IRS Limiting Free Speech is a Bad Thing

Posted: Mar 12, 2014 8:45 AM

In response to its own inappropriate targeting of conservative, patriot and tea party groups, the IRS has proposed a new set of rules limiting the free speech of tax exempt groups. Here's a rundown of the new IRS rules from the Wall Street Journal:

Under the draft rule, the IRS would recategorize a broad swath of nonprofit actions as political, including any public communication that identifies a candidate within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election. The rule would also count any communication, public or private, as political if it expresses “a view on, whether for or against, the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of one or more clearly identified candidates or of candidates of a political party.”

This redefinition is important because 501(c)(4)s have traditionally been limited to spending somewhere around 49% or less of their activity on politics to keep their tax exemption. The new rule would instantly redefine so much behavior as politics that hundreds of groups would suddenly have to change what they do or stop promoting their issues.

But now, liberal groups like the NAACP are discovering new rules apply to them too and they're not happy about it. Eliana Johnson has that story:

“As drafted, the proposed regulations would cause the ‘primary’ activity — by any measure — of these NAACP unites to be counted as ‘candidate-related political activity,’ with the result that most branches and conferences would lose their tax-exempt status,” the chairwoman of the NAACP’s board of directors, Roslyn M. Brock, and the group’s interim president and chief executive offer, wrote in a public comment to the IRS.

Other liberal groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Service Employees International Union have also spoken out against the regulations, which would classify much of the day-to-day activity of social-welfare — voter education, non-partisan voter registration, and get-out-the-vote activities — and limit the amount of those activities permitted under the law.

The curtailment of activities like voter education and registration is a matter of particular sensitivity for the NAACP, which told IRS that its regulations would prohibit much of the work the group did, in its early years, to battle race discrimination in the administration of the country’s voting laws. The IRS’s rule making, they said, ”should not be permitted to undermine the progress we have made over the past century to expand the franchise.”

Ironically, NAACP leaders have repeatedly complained about the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling, the ruling that protects the free speech of tax-exempt groups, including the NAACP. Over the past few months, we've heard liberals argue that the IRS was simply "doing its job" by singling out tea party groups for further scrutiny, but as the fallout continues with new regulations affecting them and their own activities, now they're outraged.