Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that new IRS regulations on nonprofit organizations would "entrench and encourage the harassment of groups that dare to speak up and engage in the conversation."
"Instead of putting safeguards in place to protect our civil liberties, the Obama administration is now dragging the IRS back in the opposite direction," the Kentucky Republican said in remarks on the Senate floor. "No president of either party should use the power of the federal government to punish his ideological opponents."
The Internal Revenue Service proposed new regulations
the day after Thanksgiving that would prevent groups seeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status — allowing them to keep their donors private — from running television ads, organizing get-out-the-vote efforts or voter registration drives, or handing out literature on any political issue.
The public comment period on the proposed rules ends Feb. 27.
“The path this administration is embarking on is a dangerous one with the slipperiest of slopes," McConnell said. "Left-leaning civic groups should be just as alarmed about what these regulations could mean for them in the future as what the rules almost certainly will mean for conservative groups today."
McConnell joined with Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Orrin Hatch of Utah to introduce legislation that would prevent the IRS from establishing rules that "would permit the suppression of First Amendment rights," he said.
“It aims to return the agency to its mission and get it out of the speech-police business altogether — a goal that should be a bipartisan one."
He also reiterated his call that new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen resist efforts by the White House to stifle free speech with the proposed new regulations.
Koskinen took over the embattled agency in December after a year of scandals that included the singling out of tea party and conservative groups for special screening in their applications for tax-exempt status and reports of lavish spending on IRS conferences over three years.
“This is something worth fighting for," McConnell said. "It’s something I hope Commissioner Koskinen will work with us to achieve.
“But if he doesn’t," the senator warned, "he should know that we are prepared to go to the mat to defend the First Amendment rights of our constituents and neighbors — and that we will continue to do so until those rights are safe once again."
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