Conservatives across the U.S. are rightfully indignant against the Internal Revenue Service, which admitted its agents unfairly targeted Tea Party-backed groups seeking tax-exempt status in recent years. Many right-wing activists now say that a new set of rules will give the agency even more ability to harass them.
According to recent reports, enhanced restrictions on the free speech rights of non-profit groups means that their members would not be allowed to take part in a number of activities. Among the proposed prohibitions is expressing support for a candidate or conversing with one within the 60 days prior to an election. Groups would also be forced to turn over all expenditures to the Federal Elections Commission.
While the rules would ostensibly apply to groups on both sides of the political aisle, some experts believe the IRS is not above circumventing its own mission to punish opponents.
According to attorney Cleta Mitchell, “labor unions spent $4.4 billion between 2006 and 2011 on political activities. Do you think the IRS has done any enforcement about that? I don’t think so.”
She went on to conclude that it is “never a positive when the government gets involved in regulating political speech.”
Regulations, however, are among this administration’s few tangible accomplishments.
According to House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, this development amounts to “a crass political effort” by Obama, noting the “effort only applies to social welfare organizations” and “not powerful unions or business groups….”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, said the new rules “put the First Amendment rights of Americans at even greater risk.”
He called the move a “feeble attempt by the Obama administration to justify its own wrongdoing with the IRS targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups.”
Sekulow knows whereof he speaks, as the ACLJ is currently handling dozens of cases for conservative groups victimized by the IRS.
There is still time to end this assault on free speech. Mark J. Mazur, the Department of Treasury’s assistant secretary for tax policy, said officials will “take time to work through the regulatory process and carefully consider all public feedback” before moving forward with the proposal.
Though individuals not affiliated with these non-profit groups might feel they have no stake in this debate, such organizations play a vital role in the election cycle. Furthermore, when free speech is taken away from one segment of the population, it becomes that much easier to restrict it even further.
–B. Christopher Agee
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