By MIKE CRAPO
James Madison, the fourth President of the United States and arguably the “Father of the Constitution,” understood that freedom of speech was instrumental in holding government accountable. Unfortunately, we have seen multiple attempts by this administration to stretch its regulatory authority and try to stifle this freedom. The effort to use the Internal Revenue Service to silence political dissent is intolerable and undermines our nation’s founding principles. That is why I once again joined Senate colleagues in pushing back against this administration’s inexcusable and continued use of tax policy to hinder political opposition.
In a July 2013 special report to Congress, Nina Olson, the nonpartisan National Taxpayer Advocate, recommended that the IRS leave the job of defining political activity to the Federal Election Commission or another agency with greater experience and expertise in such matters. Despite this determination by the independent watchdog within the IRS, on Nov. 29, 2013, the IRS issued a proposed rule broadly defining political activity. Under this definition, social welfare organizations would face limitations on their participation in voter registration, voter education, communications that mention a candidate or party, grants to 527s and events in which a candidate participates, among other activities. The proposed regulations could significantly limit free speech rights and force the shutdown of many politically concerned organizations, including conservative grassroots organizations.
The IRS should not be the determiner of political activity and certainly should not be using its authorities to hinder the activities of groups that they disagree with. That is why I joined a number of my colleagues in writing to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen requesting that the proposed regulations not be finalized. We wrote that, “If you allow the proposed regulations to become final, the cumulative effects of the administration’s actions will have achieved the goal of marginalizing its critics and keeping them on the sidelines of public debate.” Further, we pointed out that it is not just conservative groups that have weighed in against the proposed regulations.
Additionally, I joined Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and 39 Senate colleagues in introducing the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act. This bill would prevent further targeting of organizations by the IRS by reverting back to the IRS standards and definitions that were in place on Jan. 1, 2010—a date prior to the agency’s targeting. The bill would suspend for one year any IRS rulemaking related to 501(c)(4)s.
Since learning of the inexcusable IRS targeting, the American people have been demanding strong reforms to ensure these actions never happen again. The Obama administration must stop using the IRS to stifle speech and Congress should act quickly to complete the investigations and enact needed reforms that protect Idahoans’ freedom of speech and their ability to exercise their political beliefs.
Mike Crapo, a Republican, is the senior U.S. senator from Idaho.