Horse Dead, Beatings Continue; House Judiciary Committee Should Let IRS Commissioner Issue Guidance on Political Activity for Nonprofits

May 24, 2016

Horse Dead, Beatings Continue; House Judiciary Committee Should Let IRS Commissioner Issue Guidance on Political Activity for Nonprofits

Legislators Play Politics While Nonprofits Remain in the Dark

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Instead of engaging in partisan maneuvering that targets IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee should let him get to work on drafting guidelines for nonprofits as to what constitutes political activity, Public Citizen said today.

The committee today is holding an impeachment hearing to consider the alleged misconduct of Koskinen. The hearing amounts to more taxpayer money and time spent on groundless accusations while real progress in reforming the agency is halted, Public Citizen maintains.

“Congress is spending taxpayer dollars on a show hearing,” said Emily Peterson-Cassin, Bright Lines Project coordinator at Public Citizen. The project is pushing for the IRS to issue clear definitions of political activity for nonprofits. “In the process, lawmakers are pushing real issues under the carpet in pursuit of a political payoff.”

The charges against Koskinen stem from the revelation more than three years ago that the IRS used inappropriate criteria – such as the words in the names – to select applicants for nonprofit status for further review. That practice ended before his tenure at the IRS began.

Multiple investigations, including those from U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, noted that the problems in applying the current “facts and circumstances” test were a significant contributor to the scandal. Investigators recommended that the IRS issue clear guidance on what constitutes political activity. But Congress stopped the IRS from providing that guidance with a rider inserted into the December 2015 appropriations package.

“Impeachment is the most serious consequence Congress can level at an agency head,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The same level of seriousness should be accorded to consideration of real tax issues facing Americans, including the nonprofit community.”

Koskinen has testified more than 45 times before Congress, but will not appear at this hearing.

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The Bright Lines Project is pushing to change the tax code to include clear definitions and safe harbors for nonprofit political activity. Our expert drafting team has been working for years to create clear, fair rules that would apply to all nonprofits and would encourage nonpartisan civic engagement while removing opportunities for abuse. Our proposal may be read here.