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Preventing Irs Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

I want to thank Chairman Brady for his leadership in bringing this bill to the floor. Just to put this into context, let's focus in on what we are really talking about. Every year, tax exempt 501(c) organizations fill out a form 990, and they send it to the IRS. So far, so good. It makes all the sense in the world. Public information. It is supposed to be public, and the public is able to review that.

Under current law--actually, it is a rule; it is not a statute, it is a rule--501(c) organizations have to fill out Schedule B. Okay, what is Schedule B? Schedule B is donor information. This donor information is submitted to the IRS. But here is the problem, Mr. Speaker. The IRS Commissioner has said: We don't think we need this actually. The person who is in charge of the tax exempt unit at the IRS has publicly said they are reviewing this.

If all the other claims were true--I mean, I got carpal tunnel syndrome writing down all these things: hidden money, crisis in campaigns, codify secrecy, last safeguard against foreign influence. Put up the ramparts, Mr. Speaker. If all that was true, then why would the IRS Commissioner be saying these things, that they don't think they need Schedule B?

And further, why wouldn't the White House just declaratively say they are going to veto it? But did you notice something, Mr. Speaker? The White House didn't say they would veto it. Why? This is a pretty good idea. Now, my friends on the other side of the aisle at this point aren't persuaded that it is a good idea, but just because they are slow to the game doesn't mean it is not a good idea.

So why is this a good idea? Here is why. The IRS in the past has demonstrated they have leaked this information. When did they do it? They leaked it in the case of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that was advocating for traditional marriage. They filed their Schedule Bs. Lo and behold, an IRS employee leaked it. Out it goes. You can imagine the donor harassment, the hassle, and so forth. So the IRS' hands in the past, Mr. Speaker, are not exactly clean when it comes to holding this information close. The National Governors Association also was similarly situated. All right, that is the first reason.

The second reason is the IRS acknowledges that they don't need this to administer the Tax Code. They don't need it. What is their job? Their job is to administer the Tax Code. They don't need it to administer the Tax Code.

Finally, we on the Subcommittee on Oversight and those of us on the Committee on Ways and Means know all too well that the IRS is very poorly equipped right now, Mr. Speaker, to deal with cybersecurity issues and identity theft issues.

So my final point is this: the IRS has demonstrated an inability to hold this information in the past. They have demonstrated an inability to hold it in the future. And they don't need it. So if they don't need it, let's not give it to them.

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Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker, one quick point. The gentleman said that it was a practical tool for auditing, and yet there was a lawsuit recently where the attorney general of California tried to disclose the Schedule B information. The Federal judge who struck down the public disclosure pointed out that it had not been used in a single concrete instance, not one. And, in fact, the folks in California had not had this information submitted for 10 years before they even noticed that it was missing.

The gentleman from New York asked a provocative question. Here is why you don't want this type of capacity in the hands of the IRS, I would say, and it is this reason: there is a fundamental lack of trust. The IRS has run roughshod over people's freedoms in the past.

The Commissioner himself has said: I don't need this information. We don't need this information. There are other entities--that is, the Federal Election Commission, the Bank Secrecy Act, and so forth--that are in place that are protections against foreign influence. But, basically, the IRS--and based on the work that the committee has done-- I would argue, we have seen where the IRS has not treated these things well.

So go back to a case that is famous, a case from years ago, a case during the civil rights movement, where the NAACP was told: You have to disclose your donor information.

How absurd. How ridiculous. How unconstitutional, in fact, that was. We are not at the same threshold, I would submit, as the NAACP case, but I would suggest that there is something untoward about an agency here--the Internal Revenue Service--that has what? Power to take things away, power to put people in prison. And you are giving them information that they have squandered and abused in that past.

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Mr. ROSKAM. I yield to the gentleman from New York.

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Mr. ROSKAM. Reclaiming my time, I agree.

I yield 2 minutes to the gentlewoman from Tennessee (Mrs. Black) to give us more insight.

Mr. Speaker, did you notice something? Every one of the examples of the previous speakers were hypothetical, every one of them, drug dealers, drug traffickers, an ISIS strategy, as if ISIS is sitting around not cutting people's heads off and writing checks. How absurd.

The notion that there is no documentation is a false claim. Of course people have to have documentation. Of course all of these organizations have to document. They have to maintain records. They are subject to audit. They are subject to investigation.

But here is the point. We have been able to demonstrate actual harm to actual people who are actually subject to a capricious and vicious attack by their own government. That is the Internal Revenue Service, who turned their stare at them and intimidated them. That is a fact.

This House voted on the criminal referral of Lois Lerner. This House has investigated, time and time and time again, to the point where our friends on the other side of the aisle have basically begged for mercy, said: Do we have to talk about the IRS anymore?

Well, yes, we do because this is the group that has been the bad actor, Mr. Speaker, in the past. Let's realize who we are talking about.

Now, I think it is very, very important for us to recognize that we have an opportunity to do something, and that is this: let's follow the lead of Commissioner Koskinen. If the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service thought, wow, ISIS is coming in here and they are coming over the ramparts and they are going to completely flood us, and we have got to watch out for ISIS and drug traffickers, why would Commissioner Koskinen say this: ``On your 990, you list donors''--and we are not about to try to change that. ``As a general matter, who gives to you should not matter as to what you're about to do.''

In other words, these things that the other side is saying are illegal, they are illegal. There is nothing in this that changes that.

But there is a plot trap in their logic, Mr. Speaker, and it is this: the IRS, by their own admission, is not going through this on a systematic basis. They acknowledge that. They are not going through these Schedule B's on a systematic basis. They are not investigating them.

So what happens?

They are prohibited under the law, Mr. Speaker, from disclosing this information, under section 6103, that makes that disclosure a crime. Oh, it makes it a crime--unless they do it to some conservative group and it happens to be an accident.

To give us more insight on this, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Walden).

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Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker, I think I am the last speaker on this side, so I am prepared to close, but I will defer to the gentleman from Michigan if he wants to wind it up.

Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons people feel locked out and left out is the cold notion that the government that is supposed to be collecting taxes and evaluating things according to the law, it turns out that they were acting for a malevolent reason. It turns out that they were going after the very people that they were supposed to protect. Turns out they were investigating based on religious belief, political belief, education belief, and so forth.

So it is no wonder that the public feels disconnected from this. It is no wonder that they feel like they were trusting somebody that was just supposed to collect taxes and then they learned that they were being targeted. That is part of the locked out and left out feeling.

There is another problem, too, with the logic of the argument that we heard just a minute ago, and there is somehow an implication that this information is supposed to be public. That is news. Schedule B isn't public today, and nobody is proposing that it be public. And, in fact, the courts have said it would be unconstitutional to make it public.

So who is the beneficiary of this information, Mr. Speaker, if it is not the public, because it is not the public according to the law now. Who would be the beneficiary?

Oh, the IRS. They are the only ones, Mr. Speaker, that have access to this information. The public doesn't have it. And we already learned what happened. The courts have said: You cannot tell the NAACP, you cannot make them reveal their donors.

By that logic that we heard a minute ago, those organizations, during the civil rights movement, what would they have had to do? They would have had to disclose all of that information. And thanks be to God, Mr. Speaker, that the Court said no.

Speech is special, speech is sacrosanct, and speech ought not be manipulated and intimidated by people with power.

Mr. Speaker,

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker,

The foreign money invitation is a straw man argument, and we have spent a lot of time on it talking about it this afternoon. But remember, all these activities are legal. Also remember that it is the Internal Revenue Service based on past practice that has developed or communicated an inability to hold confidential information close. That is important.

It is also important to recognize that it was the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner who has essentially said: We don't need this information. We have had this debate and basically an admonition against the campaign finance laws. The minority's objection is largely directed to the United States Supreme Court and their conclusion in the Citizens United decision. That is all fine, well, and good.

But let's focus in here on what we are actually talking about. What we are talking about is the lack of trust that we have in the Internal Revenue Service based on past activities to hold this information close, based on their projections about their challenges as it relates to cybersecurity and identity theft, and I think a general recognition of the chilling effect of what happens when you have an organization that chooses to target people based on their political speech.

Mr. Speaker, I think we have thoroughly debated this. I urge its passage, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the motion to recommit.

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Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker, the motion to recommit essentially says this: All kind of speech is sacred, and all types of speech should be protected, except certain kinds. So you can say whatever you want to say, you can say it however you want to say it, but if it is political, we are going to treat it differently. And that is the problem; that is absolutely the problem.

H.R. 5053 is commonsense legislation that protects Americans from having their information improperly disclosed. It eliminates a burdensome reporting requirement for not-for-profits, and the IRS itself has indicated that it doesn't use the reported information for tax enforcement.

There is absolutely no reason not to eliminate the Schedule B on the Form 990. Not only is it unnecessary, but the IRS doesn't have a good track record at protecting sensitive information or treating everyone fairly. We shouldn't be giving the Internal Revenue Service access to this information, especially when they don't need it to do their job.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote against the motion, ``yes'' on H.R. 5053, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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