IRS Targeting of Political Speech Is No Accident|
Sunday, February 9, 2014
The latest round of the IRS scandal, in which
Party and conservative groups have been selectively targeted for harassment
by our tax collection agency, is now unfolding.
This comes in the form of proposed new rules from the IRS regarding the
operation of organizations falling under the 501(c)(4) provision of the tax
These are organizations whose purpose is to promote “social welfare” and
therefore their income is tax-free. Because promoting a cause or agenda in our
free and democratic country cannot be isolated from political activity
associated with that agenda, such activity is permitted by 501(c)(4)
organizations, as long as politics does not become its main purpose.
These are the rules of the game that have existed since 1959.
But now the IRS wants to change the game.
The new rules they propose expand the definition of “candidate-related activity”
so broadly – to include voter-education campaigns and grassroots lobbying
campaigns – and to forbid even the mention of a candidate in any context 30 days
before a primary or 60 days before a general election – that it will make it
impossible for these organizations to function.
The IRS would like us to believe they are just trying to clear up some rules
that are too vague regarding how these organizations are permitted to operate.
But can it be an accident that these new rules come in the midst of the current
scandal in which a now-retired IRS official, Lois Lerner, admitted that Tea
Party groups were being targeted for harassment?
It was revealed this week at a House committee hearing, at which new IRS
commissioner John Koskinen testified, that an email was found from an IRS
official indicating intent to scrutinize 501(c)(4) organizations. How much of
this was generated by inappropriate politicized activity within the IRS, and to
what extent it relates to the IRS taking guidance from a higher authority – like
the White House – remains to be seen.
It does defy common sense to conclude that the White House has not been involved
in this: IRS activity in pursuit of nonprofit organizations escalated in 2010.
It so happens that in early 2010, the
Supreme Court ruled in the case of
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that the ban on
independent political expenditures by corporations violated the free speech
provisions in the First Amendment of the Constitution. And it so happens that
funding escalated into 501(c)(4) organizations after the Supreme Court lifted
this ban. And it so happens a good deal of this activity has been Tea
After the Citizens United decision, the president himself weighed in,
expressing his outrage about the decision and indicating his intent to “develop
a forceful response to this decision.”
To the dismay of our president and those with political agendas at the IRS, our
Constitution permits free speech and allows corporations to use funds to express
a political viewpoint. So the IRS is now trying to render inoperative the
vehicles that often receive and use those funds, the 501(c)(4) organizations.
It is not an accident that if we look around the world, the one thing that
uniformly characterizes un-free nations is the lack of free speech. Those who
love political power hate those who want to question their power and who want to
inform citizens and provide a different point of view.
This is what the current IRS scandal is about. IRS officials, whose job it is to
collect taxes, have abused their power to harass those whose politics they do
not like. And this is what the current attempt to shut down 501(c)(4)
organizations by rewriting long-standing rules by which they operate is about.
Free flow of information and free speech is the oxygen of a free society. Every
freedom-loving American should vigorously push back against this abuse of power
by the IRS to stifle free speech.
STAR PARKER, a Washington Examiner columnist, is an author and president of
CURE, Center for Urban Renewal and Education. She can be reached at