Chamber Slams IRS for Curbing Free Speech by Nonprofits

Thursday, 27 Feb 2014 07:58 PM

By Joe Schaeffer

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called on the IRS to stop trying to curb the free-speech rights of nonprofit civic groups that engage in political activities.

In a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Thursday, the Chamber decried a "fatally flawed" proposal that it said would create a "no-speech zone" for groups organized under Section 501(c )(4) of the tax code.

"The proposed rule is an unprecedented attempt to broadly suppress constitutionally protected speech by tens of thousands of organizations on core issues of government decision-making and public policy," the letter states.

"It would overturn regulatory standards that have been in place for more than 50 years, even though the governing statute does not grant any authority to regulate speech and Congress has recently, and repeatedly, refused to enact a statute embodying similar speech regulations."

The Chamber referred to the scandal involving the IRS targeting of conservative and tea party groups as another reason to be alarmed by the proposal.

"This breathtaking assertion of Executive Branch authority to regulate political speech is all the more remarkable given the recent history of politically-biased enforcement activity by the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department, which has revived longstanding concerns about use of tax authority for political ends," the letter states.

"Far from restoring the nonpolitical status of the IRS, this proposal would put that agency at the center of a new speech-regulation system overseen by one political party — directly contrary to our country’s longstanding tradition of allocating such responsibility to the bipartisan Federal Election Commission, precisely to avoid one-party regulation of political speech."

The group pulled no punches in declaring that the IRS plan would lead to a profound change in the traditional role of the nation’s tax bureau.

"The proposal would arrogate to the IRS — an Executive Branch agency, subject to plenary control by the Secretary of the Treasury, the President, and their political appointees, that has a history of misuse for political purposes — the authority to regulate, and to ban, speech at the core of the First Amendment," the Chamber stated.

"That purported authority, which the IRS has never exercised in the nearly 100 years since Section 501(c)(4) was first enacted, violates Congress’s clear intent to preclude politically biased decision-making by the Executive Branch. For that reason alone, the proposal should be withdrawn and this rulemaking terminated."

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