by Bethany Monk
WASHINGTON D.C. – Congressional senators filed legislation today that would prohibit the IRS from targeting conservative groups.
The tax agency admitted last year that it was wrong to delay the applications for nonprofit status for organizations whose name included words such as “Tea Party” and “patriot.” Other groups — including Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan’s Purse and the Biblical Recorder — said they were targeted as well.
“It’s time to end the intimidation and harassment,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. “Let’s preserve the First Amendment rights of all groups, regardless of their ideology, especially those that commit themselves to improving our society.”
The Arizona lawmaker introduced the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act along with Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas. The bill is co-sponsored by 37 additional senators.
The legislation would restore the IRS 501(c)(4) standards and definitions that were in place before the agency began harassing conservative groups in 2010. This would prevent addition targeting of such organizations.
The legislation would also protect free-speech rights by postponing — for one year — the finalization of a proposed IRS regulation.
Last year, the IRS proposed a rule that would broadly define IRS 501(c)(4) political activity to include: voter registration; voter education; communications that mention a candidate or party; grants to nonprofits; and events in which a candidate participates. This means even non-partisan activities would be limited.
The regulation specifically singles out 501(c)(4) organizations; it does not apply to other nonprofits such as charities, labor unions or trade associations.
“The proposed IRS rule is overly broad and would codify the IRS’ ability to attack certain groups, opening the door to further encroachment on Americans’ First Amendment rights,” Roberts explained. “It is clear the IRS has no capacity to regulate political activity without running roughshod over people’s fundamental constitutional rights. As a result, our legislation is very simple — we simply halt further action on the proposed regulations until the Justice Department and congressional investigations into the IRS actions are complete. We don’t need the IRS regulating constitutionally guaranteed free speech.”