IRS Aims to Limit Political Activities of Nonprofits

Monday, 02 Dec 2013 03:55 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The Internal Revenue Service is coming under criticism from both right and left for proposing changes in the tax-exempt rules regulating nonprofit organizations that engage in political activities, according to The Washington Post.
The proposals seek to update rules put in-place in 1959 when civic leagues and homeowner associations typified social-welfare groups.

Some conservative groups warned the proposals would restrict freedom of speech, the Post said.

Attorney Dan Backer said, "The IRS is approaching this as, 'We are giving you the right to speak and you are going to speak within the confines we tell you,' And that's wrong. This whole effort is simply a way to empower government to regulate speech."

The liberal Alliance for Justice said, "Treasury and the IRS drew a very deep and troubling line in the sand" that could "create a danger to citizen participation in our democracy."

The IRS proposes to bar nonprofits from running ads that mention candidates or parties 60 days before a general election. It does not forbid them outright from supporting or opposing legislation that comes up during election season.

The planned new guidance issued by the Treasury Department contain 32 pages of proposals to govern the political activities of 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups as well as 501(c)(5)'s and 501(c)(6)'s. Labor unions tend to fall in the C5 category while C6's include chambers of commerce.

The rules are an effort to come up with guidelines to govern the political activity of social welfare groups in the wake of intense criticism leveled at the IRS in 2013 for targeting the tax-exempt status of tea party-aligned groups.

Under the new rules, groups that primarily raise money to engage in political work such as campaigns would need to form tax-exempt political committees that — unlike nonprofits — would be required to disclose their contributors.

The proposals will now go through an extended process of public debate.
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