Policy Forum

Censorship Through the Tax Code: How the Proposed IRS Rules for Social Welfare Groups Stifle Political Activity

March 4, 2014 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM EST

Policy Center with Foyer

Featuring David Keating, President, Center for Competitive Politics; Laurence E. Gold, Partner, Trister, Ross, Schadler & Gold, PLLC; Gabriel Rottman, Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union; and Cleta Mitchell, Foley & Lardner, LLP; moderated by Trevor Burrus, Research Fellow, Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute.

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On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the IRS quietly proposed major changes to the rules governing nonprofit social welfare groups, or 501(c)(4)s. For years, pundits and politicians have attacked (c)(4)s as so‐​called “dark money” groups that are illegitimately trying to influence elections. Last year, Congress heard testimony that the IRS had targeted conservative (c)(4)s with demands to answer onerous questions and to fill out endless forms, purportedly in order to assess the scope of a (c)(4)‘s “political activity.” Now, with the proposed rules, the IRS seems intent on codifying many of those practices and thus greatly limiting what (c)(4)s can do. Get‐​out‐​the‐​vote initiatives, candidate scorecards, and voter registration are just some of the activities that, under the proposed rules, will be considered “candidate‐​related political activity,” even though no candidate is directly supported or opposed. The proposed rules have both frightened and baffled people from all over the political spectrum, and the IRS has received a record number of public comments. Why has the IRS decided to heavily regulate political activity via the tax code, how do the proposed rules work, and how will the political landscape change if these rules are codified as proposed? Ideologically diverse panelists will be discussing these questions, as well as the broader issue of outside election spending.