U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both R-Wyo., today joined 36 of their Republican colleagues in introducing a bill that would preserve free speech and prevent the IRS from targeting politically aligned groups. The effort is led by Senators Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
The Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act would protect the free-speech rights of 501(c)(4) organizations by prohibiting for one year the finalization of a proposed Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulation that would significantly limit the advocacy and educational activities of these groups. The bill would also prevent additional targeting of 501(c)(4) organizations by restoring the IRS 501(c)(4) standards and definitions that were in place before the start of the agency's targeting of conservative groups in 2010.
"Government agencies should be blind to ideology and not used as political weapons," said Enzi. "What the IRS did in targeting conservative groups was wrong and should not happen in this country. To then put this agency in charge of regulating constitutionally protected speech would be a step in the wrong direction and granting government more say over our lives. I won't support that and I'm proud to join my colleagues in these efforts to prevent future abuse by government against political opponents."
"It's outrageous that the IRS improperly targeted, audited and investigated various tax-exempt groups with conservative views, including in Wyoming," said Barrasso. "We cannot allow this blatant abuse of power to continue. This important legislation will make sure this type of unfair targeting and harassment of Americans doesn't happen again."
Background: On Nov. 29, 2013, the Department of Treasury published a proposed IRS rule that would broadly define 501(c)(4) political activity to include voter registration, voter education, communications that mention a candidate or party, grants to 527s, and events in which a candidate participates, among other activities. Even non-partisan activities would be limited. The regulations specifically single out 501(c)(4) organizations, and do not apply to other nonprofit organizations such as charities, labor unions or trade associations.
The administration has already faced harsh criticism for earlier attempts by the IRS to target these same organizations. On May 14, 2013, the Treasury's inspector general for tax administration released a report finding that the IRS had inappropriately targeted and applied excessive scrutiny to the applications of conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. Several IRS employees, including the acting commissioner, resigned as a result of the scandal. Investigations by the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Department of Justice are ongoing.