The head of the Internal Revenue Service indicated that a revised proposal to limit the political activity of nonprofit advocacy groups is coming by the end of the year, a vow welcomed by liberals but received with skepticism by conservatives.
In an interview on USA Today's Capitol Download, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told host Susan Page that his agency will weigh all of the 150,000 comments it has fielded from both sides of the political aisle on the current draft of proposed guidelines and is likely to "repropose a redefined rule and ask for more public comment."
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The current version of the proposed guidelines, which would prohibit tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organizations from engaging in election-related activities like voter-registration and get-out-the-vote drives, has been met by widespread opposition.
According to a report in The Washington Post
, conservatives feel it is "a scheme to silence President Obama's critics," while liberals have cautioned the measures could risk "trampling on the First Amendment."
Koskinen's pronouncement that the IRS is willingly and actively attempting to come up with a more palatable set of rules was welcome news to Public Citizen, the advocacy group founded by former Green Party activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
According to the Post
, the group called Koskinen's remarks "a real victory for the public and groups most affected by the proposed rule," and hopes that the revised version features "clear, fair rules that would apply to all nonprofits and would encourage nonpartisan civic engagement while removing opportunities for abuse."
The outlook by conservatives, however, wasn't nearly as rosy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement suggesting the Obama administration drop the planned reforms, writing, "The commissioner has the ability to stop the IRS from stepping on the First Amendment altogether, and that's exactly what he should do."
Meanwhile, election-law expert Cleta Mitchell told the Post she believes the Obama administration is covertly attempting to cripple conservative advocacy groups. "It doesn't give me comfort that [Koskinen] says he's rewriting the draft regulations," she said. "This is a flawed process that is going to continue to produce a flawed product."
Koskinen's remarks came less than a week after the House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines to request criminal charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner, whom Republicans have accused of targeting conservative groups and plotting to develop new tax-exemption regulations without public notice. Her lawyer has denied the charges.
Koskinen told USA Today that his ultimate goal is to come up with regulations that insure his agency is operating transparently and fairly.
"The bottom line is, people need to have confidence in the integrity of the IRS," he said, "that it is not [seen as] a political organization, that we're not marching to anyone else's drummer, that our job is simply to make sure people pay the right amount of what they owe."
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