Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called on new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to resist efforts by the Obama administration to stifle free speech with new proposed regulations on nonprofit organizations.
"The new IRS commissioner has a simple choice: He can either restore the public’s trust in an agency whose reputation was already in doubt, or he can allow himself to be used as a political pawn by an administration that now seems willing to do anything to keep those it disagrees with from fully exercising their constitutionally-protected right to free speech," the Kentucky Republican said in remarks on the Senate floor.
Koskinen was sworn in last month to head the embattled agency after a year of scandals
that included the singling out of tea party and conservative groups for special screening in their applications for tax-exempt status and reports of lavish spending
on IRS conferences over three years.
In addition, the IRS issued new proposed regulations the day after Thanksgiving that would prevent groups seeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status — allowing them to keep their donors private — from running television ads, organizing get-out-the-vote efforts or voter registration drives, or handing out literature on any political issue.
The period for public comment on the proposed rules ends Feb. 27.
McConnell called the new proposals "radical" and charged that they sought "to codify the same kind of targeting of grass-roots groups" that had been singled out between 2010 through the presidential election last year.
"The administration proposes to redefine political activity so broadly that grass-roots groups all across the country that exist for the sole purpose of speaking out on issues of liberty or limited government or free enterprise or anything else that the administration doesn’t want to hear about will be forced to shut down," he said.
"Just by speaking out on these issues of broad public concern, they’d be ruled out of bounds under the new IRS rules — just in time, by the way, for the mid-term elections," McConnell added. "If you think that this kind of speech is precisely what the First Amendment was written to protect, you’d be right."
He said: "The Democrats think 2014 is shaping up to be a tough year for them politically. So instead of trying to persuade the public that they’ve got the best answers to the problems we face, they try to shut everybody else out of the political process, they try to shut them up.
"And they have no problem using the powers of government to do it, less than a year after presiding over one of the biggest abuses of government power in modern memory," McConnell said. "The arrogance here is just breathtaking."
He challenged Koskinen to "take a stand against this kind of thuggery and make it clear to a nervous public that his agency will not engage in any more government-sanctioned crackdowns on speech."
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