Proposed changes in how the IRS evaluates the political activity of 501(c)(4) "social welfare" groups have split the top two members of the House Ways and Means Committee — and they represent the same state.
The committee chairman, Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, said on Tuesday that the Obama administration should not issue the new guidelines, Roll Call reports
"This smacks of the administration trying to shut down potential critics," Camp said.
He was referring to those who have attacked the IRS for singling out
tea party, conservative, and religious groups for special scrutiny in their applications for 501(c)(4) status.
The status allows the organizations to keep their donors private. Such groups spent "tens of millions" of dollars in the last election, Roll Call reports.
"There continues to be an ongoing investigation, with many documents yet to be uncovered, into how the IRS systematically targeted and abused conservative-leaning groups," Camp said, according to Roll Call.
"Before rushing forward with new rules, especially ones that appear to make it harder to engage in public debate, I would hope Treasury would let all the facts come out first — something they could achieve by fully cooperating with Congress in the investigation."
But the panel's ranking Democrat, Sandy Levin, who also represents the Wolverine State, called the proposed rules "a good first step," Roll Call reports.
"As we plainly saw in the investigations into the failings within the IRS tax-exempt division, the lack of clear guidance on defining and measuring political activities under current law led to mismanagement and delays in the processing of exemption applications from progressive and conservative organizations," Levin told Roll Call.
"The proposal for a 'candidate-related political activity' is a reasonable starting place, but the details will be important, for example, in an area as critical as voter registration drives," Levin said.
At issue is whether an organization may obtain tax-exempt status through promoting the "social welfare."
Political groups have loosely interpreted the IRS rules to participate in a wide range of political activities, ranging from educating voters to coaching potential candidates for office, Roll Call reports.
The proposed new guidelines, however, would bar organizations seeking the exempt status from "candidate-related political activity."
Levin called the work of 501(c)(4) groups "vital in communities across the country," adding that it was "important that there be clear guidelines between promoting social welfare and engaging in political activity for organizations seeking this tax exemption."
The Democrat said the proposed changes would help remove the "ambiguity" from the current IRS evaluation system, Roll Call reports.
Acknowledging that "gross mismanagement of the tax-exempt division" had occurred, Levin said clearer guidelines were needed to prevent future mistakes, Roll Call reports.
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