On IRS, Omnibus Provisions Miss the Mark

Dec. 10, 2014

On IRS, Omnibus Provisions Miss the Mark

Congress Should Help Agency Establish Clear Rules for Nonprofit Political Activity

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Riders in the omnibus spending bill that would prohibit the IRS from targeting groups and individuals based on their ideological beliefs are half measures that won’t ensure the agency can adequately determine whether nonprofits are engaged in too much political activity, Public Citizen said today.

Instead, if Congress wants to ensure that the IRS follows clear, objective standards when scrutinizing nonprofit political activity, lawmakers should support ongoing IRS rulemaking that proposes to create those necessary guidelines, said Emily Peterson-Cassin, coordinator of Public Citizen’s Bright Lines Project.

The riders, Sections 107 and 108 in the IRS section of the funding bill, are in response to last year’s IRS scandal, in which certain groups were selected for increased scrutiny based on the words in their names. The spending bill also cuts IRS funding by more than $345 million.

“The IRS rulemaking that’s taking place now is the best way to ensure that neutral, objective standards are in place for political activity for nonprofits,” Peterson-Cassin said. “A permanent rule would prevent mistakes and abuses in enforcement while still protecting the ability of nonprofits to engage in our democracy.”

Congress also should listen to the public, which is overwhelmingly supportive of objective rules for nonprofit political activity, Peterson-Cassin said. Recent polling shows (PDF) that more than eighty percent of voters agree that clear, objective rules for political activity are a good idea.

“Instead of cutting IRS funding and making it even more difficult for the agency to enforce vague laws, Congress should facilitate the current rulemaking to make those laws more clear by ensuring the agency has sufficient resources,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and manager of the Bright Lines Project. “Better rules would obviate the need for one-off riders and instead create a permanent solution.”

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The Bright Lines Project 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. It is housed at Public Citizen.