Proposed Internal Revenue Service regulations would further weaken conservative groups and their ability to participate in political campaigns, Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Newsmax.
The Michigan Republican spoke following a hearing that made public a damaging email about IRS targeting.
The planned rules would strictly limit the ability of 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations, including grassroots conservative political action committees, from engaging in voter registration drives, get-out-the-vote efforts, and certain other activities in the months leading up to federal, state, and local elections.
Camp has introduced legislation to block the IRS from finalizing the restrictions until after the 2014 midterm elections.
"These regulations will put conservative groups out of business," he said. "And the [IRS] commissioner needs to get up to speed on this topic, find out what really happened, and what the real motivation was — which appears to be purely political — before moving forward."
Stirring controversy during the Wednesday hearing of the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee was an email that included a strong suggestion of a harder line on non-profits seeking tax exemptions, and was dated June 14, 2012.
Sent by a Treasury Department official to IRS officials, the so-called "smoking gun" in the email reads: "Don't know who in your organizations is keeping tabs on c4s, but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013, I've got my radar up and this seems interesting." The term "off-plan" refers to an item not on the official agenda of the meeting.
Camp said during the hearing that this email was proof "IRS officials were privately planning new rules on tax-exempt organizations at least a year" before the IRS' scrutiny of the status of tea party-related groups became public.
John Koskinen, President Barack Obama's new IRS commissioner, testified at the hearing — his first appearance before Congress since taking over the scandal-tarred IRS in December — that he wasn't aware of the e-mail and was eager to move forward.
"It doesn't serve my ability to manage the agency to go back in time and try to look at any particular aspects of the agency," the 74-year-old lawyer told the subcommittee.
Some House members said the email was evidence that the IRS targeting was not the result of a few misguided officials.
"They knew exactly what they were doing," Republican Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, a subcommittee member, told Newsmax after the hearing. "This didn't happen by chance. [The email] takes away the earlier excuses that this was all due to staff incompetence and that the [IRS] staff doing this was a couple of rookies."
Kelly added that he didn't know "whether that email is a smoking gun, but it sure doesn't pass the smell test."
The email revelation and Koskinen's testimony are likely to fuel Camp's legislation blocking the IRS regulations.
While the proposed IRS regulations place limits on 501(c)(4) groups, they do not affect labor unions, which are largely supportive of Democrats.
So far, Camp's bill, the "Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs Act of 2014," has 40 co-sponsors in the House, all of them Republicans.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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