March 13 2014
Patrice J. Lee
Nothing unites ideological opponents faster than politicians and bad policy. The aggressive new rules proposed for the IRS that place new limits on what organizations can do to promote social welfare are bringing together nonprofit groups from the Left, Center and Right to do public battle with Congress and the Administration.
When conservatives decried the IRS’s systematic targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups for added scrutiny, the Administration and liberals slammed them as making a big deal of nothing. Liberal groups were largely silent.
As payback for the beating it took in the press and the congressional investigations into its operations, the IRS decided to crackdown on tax-exempt groups (primarily conservative groups) that they feel benefit from what they call “dark money.” Last fall, the IRS released proposed rules to crackdown on organizations seeking tax exemption if they engage in too much candidate-related political activity. Under the proposed rules, groups with an exemption couldn't count political advertisements, participating in "get-out-the-vote" or voter registration drives, or events involving candidates as "social welfare" work.
What the IRS didn’t expect was that liberal groups would get caught up in its dragnet. Instead of staying silent on the sidelines, some liberal groups have now come out swinging with their specific interests in mind.
One of the latest liberal groups to speak out is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In a public comment, the NAACP harshly criticized the rules saying they would cause local branches to lose their tax exemption.
National Review Online reports:
“As drafted, the proposed regulations would cause the ‘primary’ activity — by any measure — of these NAACP unites to be counted as ‘candidate-related political activity,’ with the result that most branches and conferences would lose their tax-exempt status,” the chairwoman of the NAACP’s board of directors, Roslyn M. Brock, and the group’s interim president and chief executive offer, wrote in a public comment to the IRS.
Other liberal groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Service Employees International Union have also spoken out against the regulations, which would classify much of the day-to-day activity of social-welfare — voter education, non-partisan voter registration, and get-out-the-vote activities — and limit the amount of those activities permitted under the law.
The curtailment of activities like voter education and registration is a matter of particular sensitivity for the NAACP, which told IRS that its regulations would prohibit much of the work the group did, in its early years, to battle race discrimination in the administration of the country’s voting laws. The IRS’s rule making, they said, ”should not be permitted to undermine the progress we have made over the past century to expand the franchise.”
Imagine if the NAACP had been shackled by the IRS’s proposed rules during the Civil Rights era. The United States probably wouldn’t look the way it does today.
The move for civil rights strengthens a free and civil society. Instead of turning to government to alleviate our societal issues, individuals come together in the private sector to drive systemic and cultural change independent of government. Decades ago the government recognized the value of civil society and rewarded organizations with tax exemption and nonprofit status. Why is the IRS now trying to meddle with what works?
The IRS should conduct itself as an impartial entity, immune to the whims of politics. As the IRS scandal has demonstrated, the IRS has set aside impartiality with an eye toward short-term election strategy and long-term political changes. The IRS uses the power and authority at its disposal to stymie legal activity of private organizations. And the President even legitimized their efforts claiming recently that there isn’t a “smidgen of corruption” at the IRS.
Conservatives groups have been vocal about the IRS meddling in the operation of civil society. Finally, liberal groups (from the NAACP to the ACLU to unions) are standing up as well. And they are standing up to liberals in Congress (and even the President) by not hiding what these new IRS rules will mean to their operations.
Liberal groups have been bullied into silence by liberal Congressmen, who have strategic reasons for limiting the ability of conservative groups to be politically involved in campaigns against them. As NRO explains, the NAACP is at odds with the Congressional Black Caucus on this issue. Forty House members of the CBC voted against a bill that would have delayed the proposed regulations for a year.
This is a tension that will continue, but it’s good to see courage rise about politics –even if it’s not in the halls of the Capitol or the White House.