Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed proposed regulations on nonprofit organizations by the Internal Revenue Service, charging that the agency should "leave the First Amendment alone."
"Folks understand what a threat this rule poses to our most cherished of civil liberties," the Kentucky Republican said Thursday on the Senate floor. "They also realize that a group the administration favors today could easily become a group the IRS targets tomorrow.
"That’s why this fight is so important — why it’s so inappropriate to hand this kind of power to any administration."
McConnell's remarks came on the last day for public comments on the proposed regulations, which were released the day after Thanksgiving. They would prevent groups seeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status from running television ads, organizing get-out-the-vote efforts or voter registration drives, or handing out literature on any political issue.
The IRS status allows such organizations to keep their donors private.
The senator called the proposed rules the "IRS’s latest effort to suppress free speech."
"So far, nearly 100,000 comments have come through," McConnell said. "Nearly every one I’ve seen is opposed."
He noted that even new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that "he saw more comments on this proposal than ever before 'on any regulation.'"
Koskinen took over
the embattled agency in December.
"People are making their voices heard — loudly," McConnell said. "And the message they’re broadcasting is pretty clear: Leave the First Amendment alone. Get out of the censorship and harassment business. Stick to the job you’re actually supposed to be doing."
The comments are from across the spectrum, he said, from conservative groups to labor unions to business organizations to civil-libertarian groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Grass-roots groups right across the political map are upset at what they view as an assault on their First Amendment rights," McConnell said.
He reiterated his earlier charge
to Koskinen to reject the proposed rule changes. "He could stop this rule tomorrow," McConnell said. "And given the comments he made about restoring integrity to the IRS when the Senate voted to confirm him, that’s just what we expect out of him.
"In fact, that’s the essentially mandate on which he was confirmed."
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