On September 8, in response to a “Request for Information,” the James Madison Center for Free Speech (“JMCFS”) submitted comments to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee (“Committee”) in support of bright-line IRS standards for tax-exempt organizations in order to rein in the threat to free speech, association, and the right to vote.
The IRS's current guidance and “facts-and-circumstances” approach to questions invite uncertainty, requiring costly compliance advice for tax-exempt organizations and casting a chill on their participation in public debate and voting, which are basic constitutional rights. The JMCFS urged the Committee to require the IRS to establish bright-line definitions of “political campaign intervention” and the terms “primarily” and “exclusively,” which are used to define when regulation is triggered for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations.
The Request sought comments on “new forms of political activity,” regulation of voter education and registration activities, the FECA foreign national prohibition, and additional disclosure by tax-exempt groups to facilitate campaign finance regulation. In its comments, the JMCFS pointed out that the IRS has no authority or expertise to police campaign finance rules and that these groups are already subject to FECA and states' campaign finance regulation.
“Concern over “new” media for political speech is misplaced,” says James Bopp, Jr. JMCFS General Counsel. “It isn't the medium of distribution but the content that matters, and the IRS should stop forcing tax-exempt groups to make expensive educated guesses about what is permissible and what isn't.” He added “let's get the basic terms straight and clear and not introduce new regulation based on even more ambiguous terms or muddy campaign finance regulations with IRS's misplaced priorities.”
The comments are available here.