Campaign finance experts are criticizing new regulations by the IRS and the Treasury Department that they say are an effort to administratively restrict the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and to limit free speech.
The new rules governing non-profit organizations are seen as a response to an ongoing IRS scandal in which non-profit conservative and Tea Party groups were targeted for delay or rejection of tax-exempt status.
The proposed rules would define the term “candidate-related political activity” and amend current regulations by stressing that the promotion of social welfare is not included in that type of activity.
For example, one of the proposed rules defines as an activity “closely related to elections or candidates” as “holding an event within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) at which a candidate appears as part of the program.”
“This is part of ongoing efforts within the IRS that are improving our work in the tax-exempt area,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel in a press release regarding the proposed rules. “Once final, this proposed guidance will continue moving us forward and provide clarity for this important segment of exempt organizations.”
According to the Washington Free Beacon, campaign finance attorney Dan Backer said, “This is an astonishing – and from this feckless, hyper-partisan administration, unsurprising – effort to curtail the free speech of Americans who come together to better their community.”
“This is another transparent attempt by the administration to overturn [the Citizens United] decision,” said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform initiative at the Heritage Foundation and formerly a Federal Election Commissioner.
Von Spakovsky added that the guidance “should be opposed by the entire nonprofit community regardless of whether they are on the left or the right side of ideological aisle.”
“It would stop lots of grassroots activity on issues and prevent lobbying on many issues before Congress,” he said.
Backer also urged a joint effort of a “broad coalition of voices” to prevent “unelected bureaucrats” from restricting the free speech of Americans.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee that has led the congressional investigation into the IRS’ targeting of Tea Party groups, said the guidance is “a crass political effort by the administration to get what political advantage they can, when they can.”
“The regulation released today continues [the administration’s] unfortunate pattern of stifling constitutional free speech,” Issa said in a statement.