March 3, 2014 | Commentary on Rule of Law, Department of the Treasury

The IRS Tries to Stifle Internal Dissent

Thursday was the deadline for filing public comments on the IRS’s proposed rule to restrict political activity by 501(c)(4) organizations. Unsurprisingly, the IRS website was flooded with last minute comments.

When the bytes had settled, the agency discovered it had received a total of more than 140,000 comments. The vast majority condemned the new rules.

Among the landslide of critical comments was one filed by eight former commissioners of the Federal Election Commission. I was one of the signatories. The others were Lee Ann Elliott, Thomas J. Josefiak, David M. Mason, Don McGahn, Bradley A. Smith, Michael E. Toner, and Darryl Wold. All together, we have over 55 years of experience in campaign finance regulation. As one, we condemned the agency’s attempt to “interfere with the system of campaign finance regulation established by Congress.”

Our joint comment pointed out that the IRS lacks statutory authority to restrict the political activity of 501(c)(4)s and that the proposed rules do not respect Supreme Court precedent. They would “confuse regulated entities” and “seriously undermine the First Amendment rights and protections of the Constitution.” Bizarrely, some of the language proposed by the IRS is “almost identical to a provision of federal campaign finance law that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional” in Citizens United.

On Wednesday the House approved, by a 243–176 margin, a bill sponsored by House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) that would delay the proposed rules for one year. However no one expects Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) to let that bill come to a vote in the Upper Chamber. White House advisers have also already threatened a veto.

This proposed regulation is obviously Stage Two of the Obama administration’s attempt to silence its critics. Stage One was freezing the approval of applications from conservative organizations for 501(c)(4) status before the 2012 election. Stage Two is this regulation that would make it almost impossible for conservative organizations to talk about candidates, issues, or even executive-branch nominations.

It’s a naked attempt by those holding the reins of political power to censor their opponents’ political speech and quash their political activity.

 - Hans Von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies as well as the manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Hans A. von Spakovsky Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Originally appeared in The National Review