In Defense of Independent Speech

AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Scott Sommerdorf
AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Scott Sommerdorf
Washington, DC

In the five years since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United vs. F.E.C.,  liberal special interests have attempted to silence independent speech and the voices of non-profit organizations.

Their radical agenda has been embraced by President Obama and Democrats in Congress.  Sadly, these efforts to blunt the First Amendment protections of political speech have even been championed by government bureaucrats within the Internal Revenue Service.

Short-sighted efforts by liberals to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United have overwhelmingly failed.  To a vast majority of Americans, the language of the First Amendment is clear.  The attempts of President Obama and Senator Harry Reid to turn elections into referendums on campaign finance law are laughable.  Obama and Reid could not distract the American public by shifting their focus from the Democrats’ failed agenda to attacking Citizens United or the Koch brothers.  The American people spoke at the ballot box and carried a wave of Republicans in to office.

Having been rebuked by the electorate and without a legislative avenue to restrict free speech, the Obama Administration now seeks to chill speech through burdensome regulation.  IRS Commissioner John Koskinen recently announced plans to further regulate “political activity” by non-profit organizations including social welfare organizations and 527s. We do not know the extent to which Koskinen plans to regulate these organizations, but we can gleam some sense from the ill-advised attempt of the IRS to enact a similar regulatory scheme in the lead-up to the 2014 midterm elections.

The failed regulation sought to vastly expand the definition of “political activity” to regulate and ultimately restrict many fundamental activities of social welfare organizations.  Swept into the proposed regulation’s definition of “political activity” were legitimate grassroots activities, such as running issue advertisements which reference a candidate or officeholder, as well as traditional civic activities like organizing non-partisan voter registration drives.

Imagine that — an IRS regulation that could restrict voter registration drives.  At a time when President Obama is advocating mandatory voting requirements, why would his Administration dare to restrict the ability of social welfare organizations to encourage Americans to register to vote?  This is the same IRS that unfairly targeted the tax-exempt applications of conservative organizations.  IRS bureaucrats, including Lois Lerner, singled out conservative organizations and subjected them to increased scrutiny based solely on ideology.  With that track record, is it wise to grant these bureaucratic more power to regulate our speech?

The previous attempt by the IRS to restrict political speech was rightly met with an overwhelming public outcry.  Americans from all walks of life and across the political spectrum submitted a record 150,000 comments to the IRS.  Koskinen noted that “if you take all the comments on all the Treasury and IRS regulations for the last seven years, double that number, you are close to the number of comments that we have on this single regulation.”  As Americans, we take our First Amendment rights seriously, and when the government attempts to restrict them, it is our duty to fight back and defend our sacred Freedom of Speech.  We were successful in stopping them last time, and I’m confident we will again succeed.

As President Obama’s seemingly lawless administration again sets its sights on restricting speech, it is more important than ever that we protect the rights of independent speakers.  While we will closely monitor and fight the latest attempt by the IRS to regulate political speech, we can also make significant advances to protect speech through legislation.

Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL) has taken steps to do just that.  Congressman Roskam has introduced H.R. 1104 the Fair Treatment of All Donations Act.  This legislation would prevent the IRS from stifling independent speech by prohibiting IRS bureaucrats from applying a gift tax to contributions made to social-welfare organizations.  Roskam’s legislation would help prevent discretionary and discriminatory application of such a tax to social welfare organizations by eliminating it.  The IRS bureaucrats who could not be trusted to fairly and impartially evaluate tax-exempt applications cannot be allowed to selectively target contributions to conservative organizations.

We must not stand idly by as the Obama Administration declares war on the First Amendment and non-profit organizations.  Now is the time to stand up, speak out, and oppose any efforts to silence independent speech.