Congress Must Put A Stop to IRS Assault on Political Speech

 In the past few years, the IRS has failed time and time again to serve the American people. The agency has been caught red-handed targeting conservative non-profits, has struggled to properly implement and distribute Obamacare tax credits, and failed to protect 330,000 taxpayers from hackers. While these are the most well-documented cases of misconduct and ineptitude in the agency, the IRS has also taken aim at First Amendment rights by attempting to curtail political speech through intimidation. In the aftermath of these troubling revelations, it is clear that Congress needs to implement reforms that hold the agency accountable to the American people.

 

As a recently released bipartisan report by the Senate Finance Committee notes, the IRS targeting of conservative non-profits was part of a larger effort to restrict political speech at the urging of the White House:

 “Political pressure from the White House following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unduly influenced the IRS and other government agencies, most notably the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission, to scrutinize political spending by 501(c) organizations. These agencies coordinated with each other on initiatives targeting conservative tax-exempt organizations.”

In addition to applying untoward scrutiny to certain non-profits, the IRS has also worked to restrict political speech through a twisted interpretation of the law that designates 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations as “persons” under the tax code. The agency has used this interpretation to justify subjecting individuals that have donated to a non-profit to the gift tax, in a clear attempt to harass taxpayers based on their ideology. No serious tax expert would agree with this interpretation, but that has not stopped the IRS.

Even after countless scandals, reform is nowhere to be found when it comes to the IRS. As the Senate Finance Committee report notes, the agency is yet to address many of the underlying problems that led to the targeting of non-profits:

 “The IRS has failed to correct many of the fundamental problems that led to the inappropriate targeting of Tea Party groups.”

Given the agency’s repeated refusal to fix these problems, it is contingent on Congress to step in and implement reform. To address the issue of political speech, Ways and Means Oversight Chairman Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) has introduced H.R. 1104, the “Fair Treatment for All Donations Act,” which explicitly puts a stop to this practice of targeting donors.

This commonsense proposal passed the House unanimously back in April but has since stalled in the Senate. With Congress preparing to return from its August recess, members should quickly pass this noncontroversial legislation. 

Investigations into the Obama IRS have made it clear that the agency, and the administration as a whole worked to curtail political speech. With these findings now public, it is time for strong reform to ensure the protection of First Amendment rights. Congress must protect free speech and make it clear that it is unacceptable for government bureaucrats to intimidate taxpayers based on voluntarily donations to political non-profits.