The IRS scandal is anything but "phony," as President Barack Obama has labeled it, and is instead an assault on the Constitution's First Amendment, says Bradley Smith, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
"The IRS scandal is part of a long-term assault on First Amendment rights," Smith, now chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, writes in the Wall Street Journal
The scandal involved the targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, giving their applications more scrutiny than others. The groups sought 501(c)(4) tax status, which requires a group to be engaged in "the promotion of social welfare."
But the criteria the IRS uses in deciding whether to grant that status is an "arbitrary" test that few people understand," Smith says.
While 501(c)(4) groups must disclose their campaign activity, they don't have to reveal information about their donors and members.
But Democrats want the IRS to classify the conservative groups as Section 527 political committees, Smith says. "This would increase their regulatory burden by requiring them to file quarterly or monthly reports detailing their receipts and expenditures," he says.
"It would also force them to reveal personal information about their supporters and members, enabling government retaliation and laying the groundwork for unofficial harassment of those supporters," Smith says.
Liberals have regularly engaged in such harassment, "especially since it was successfully used to target financial supporters of California's Proposition 8 — which banned same-sex marriage in the state — to get them fired from jobs, for instance," Smith says.
IRS defenders say the law requires Section 501(c)(4) groups to work "exclusively for the promotion of social welfare."
But there are plenty of liberal groups that have received the status and work to support political candidates and agendas, Smith says, listing MoveOn.org, People for the American Way, and Naral Pro-Choice America, as examples.
"But this raises another question: Why aren't political education and discussion a form of promoting 'social welfare?'" Smith writes. "What kind of democracy claims that political participation is not in the interest of 'social welfare?'"
Meanwhile, the tentacles of the IRS scandal appear to still be growing. the Federal Election Commission's Republican Vice Chairman Don McGahn told CNN Monday
that he has seen many undisclosed emails between FEC officials and the IRS, which raise the possibility that the two agencies cooperated in targeting conservative political groups.
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