As IRS targeting scandal continues, critics on left and right slam new regs limiting free speech
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 7, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Almost nine months after the IRS' targeting of Tea Party, patriot, and pro-life groups came to light, a new scandal has emerged: the same people who targeted political opponents from 2010 to 2012 created the new regulations the IRS proposed in 2013.
According to the House Ways & Means Committee, the IRS – which claimed work on its new regulatory platform was begun after May 2013 – began working on the non-profit standards in 2012, under disgraced former IRS staffer Lois Lerner. Lerner headed the department that targeted conservative organizations. She retired in September 2013.
Before this week, it was thought that the administration had been looking into changing some of the rules surrounding 501(c)(4) organizations after the scandal broke. The new rules, which have been proposed and are open for public comment, would “explicitly define which kind of activities are political and fall outside of the social welfare category, forcing such groups to be more careful about how they spend their funds,” according to The Washington Post.
The Post says the regulations would not allow ads mentioning candidates after a certain date before Election Day, among other limitations on speech. Several prominent conservative organizations have described the regulations as codifying the suppression the IRS engaged in starting in 2010.
While the regulations would apply to all viewpoints equally on paper, conservatives are concerned that the harassment they faced under the IRS' two-year campaign would be made official federal policy – and that the IRS cannot be trusted to apply such laws equally.
According to Thomas Brejcha, founder, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, the newest chapter in the IRS scandal is no surprise. “[This is] another outrageous revelation in what has been a cascade of revelations from Washington showing that, contrary to what they claim, they have been attacking pro-life as well as Tea Party groups,” he said.
Brejcha, whose organization is representing six pro-life clients targeted by the IRS, says, “It's just been clear bureaucratic antagonism toward our pro-life clients. If that isn't corrupt misuse of the tax laws, I don't know what would be such.”
This is only the latest in the scandals that have rocked the IRS since last summer. Earlier this year, the FBI indicated it will not file charges related to the targeting, even though Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin told LifeSiteNews that “neither the FBI nor the President can know how much corruption exists in the IRS” because “the FBI has never asked what Tea Party Patriots' problems were or how we were affected by the IRS' targeting.” It has also been revealed that the overseer of the IRS investigation within the Obama administration is a Democratic Party and Obama donor.
Last year, USA TODAY found 80 percent of 162 investigated organizations were conservative.
Tea Party Patriots National Grassroots Coordinator Keli Carender told LifeSiteNews her organization was “not surprised” at the newest revelations, “because there is zero trust in anything they say. We've always known these rule proposals are not about 'clarification.' We know they are about codifying the targeting into law. Instead of being unethical and illegal, harassment and targeting will just be unethical under these regulations.”
While the ACLU declined to comment on the new revelations of dishonesty from the IRS, a spokesperson did tell LifeSiteNews that “although the regulations aren't a direct restriction on speech, practically, we're concerned that non-profits--especially smaller, less well-resourced non-profits--will curtail or avoid totally non-partisan issue advocacy. That would present a serious chill on free speech.”
Gabriel Rottman, the ACLU's legislative counsel/policy advisor in its Washington Legislative Office, also said “there have been long been concerns with the current standard and groups have been pushing the IRS to change the rules for a while. The IRS actually did the right thing in proposing new rules, they just went the wrong way and the proposal could make things worse.”
Carender said Congress should take note that Tea Party Patriots and the ACLU are “on the same side of an issue,” and “should do its job and hold the bureaucrats accountable.”
“The ACLU's stated mission is to defend freedom of speech,” said Carender, “and the Tea Party movement is made up of millions of Americans who are exercising their freedom of speech. All of us together oppose these new proposed regulations. Obviously, this crosses the ideological divide, and when you have the Tea Party Patriots and the ACLU on the same side of an issue, I think we all know that there's something wrong.”
According to Rottman, the ACLU's “primary concern is that these rules will harm the ability of groups on both the right and left, who aren't engaged in any campaign intervention, from debating the issues freely.”
The IRS scandal had already been on the top of the news cycle this week, with President Obama's statement to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly before Sunday's Super Bowl that there was not “even a smidgen of corruption” involved in the IRS' targeting. That claim had critics in an uproar.
The IRS' new commissioner, John Koskinen, is also under fire for reinstating previously cancelled bonuses for IRS employees. Koskinen apologized for the targeting yesterday, promising “it won't happen going forward.”
The Obama administration, which promised to be the “most transparent administration in history,” has faced criticism for years on its lack of openness with the public. Among others, The New York Times and CNN host and former ABC White House Correspondent Jake Tapper have hammered the administration for targeting reporters, especially Fox's James Rosen. At Slate.com Paul Thacker slammed the administration last March for its violations of public trust.
Brejcha said that the IRS' corruption has “really got to be cleaned up at the top, but obviously at the top, there is a malignant indifference to the truth.”
Rep. Dave Camp, R-MI, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said at a recent hearing that the committee “will fight any and all efforts to restrict the rights of groups to organize, speak-out and educate the public, just as unions are allowed to do so.”
“We will get to the bottom of this, and I expect the IRS to produce – quickly – the outstanding documents the Committee has requested,” he continued. "I believe the IRS has a long way to go in restoring its credibility. But, you can take a first step by complying with this Committee’s request and stopping all action against 501(c)(4) groups until the appropriate investigations are completed.”