Email to IRS chief Lerner reveals new strategy to target Tea Party
The Daily Caller is reporting that an email obtained by the House Ways and Means Committee shows how the IRS is broadly tightening the definition of "political activity" in order to deny non-profit status to Tea Party and other conservative groups.
In essence, the proposed new rules would make just about everything that used to be considered legal activity, illegal.
The Treasury Department and Lerner started devising the new rules "off-plan," meaning that their plans would not be published on the public schedule. They planned the new rules in 2012, while the IRS targeting of conservative groups was in full swing, and not after the scandal broke in order to clarify regulations as the administration has suggested.
The rules place would place much more stringent controls on what would be considered political activity by the IRS, effectively limiting the standard practices of a wide array of non-profit groups.
The Wall Street Journal has an exerpt from a 2012 email that was circulated to former IRS chief Lois Lerner:
Mr. Obama wants Americans to believe that the targeting resulted from the confusing tax law governing nonprofits, which he says was "difficult" to interpret and resulted in mere "bureaucratic" mistakes. This is also the Administration's justification for issuing new regulations governing 501(c)(4)s that would effectively silence White House opponents this election year. Published in the Federal Register in November, the new rules cite the "lack of a clear and concise" regulation as reason for the rewrite.
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp blew up this fairy tale at Wednesday's hearing with new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Mr. Camp unveiled a June 14, 2012 email from Treasury career attorney Ruth Madrigal to key IRS officials in the tax-exempt department, including former director Lois Lerner.
The email cites a blog post about the political activity of tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups and reads: "Don't know who in your organizations [sic] is keeping tabs on c4s, but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013, I've got my radar up and this seemed interesting."
Interesting for sure. The IRS typically puts out a public schedule of coming regulations, and Mr. Camp noted that in this case "off-plan" appears to mean "hidden from the public." He added that committee interviews with IRS officials have found that the new 2013 rules were in the works as early as 2011, meaning the Administration has "fabricated the rationale" for this new regulation.
Chairman Camp questioned the credibilty of the rule making process because of the deceptive explanation for the new rules by the administration:
"If Treasury and the IRS fabricated the rationale for a rule change it would tend to raise questions about the integrity of the rule-making process," Camp said.
"I want to be perfectly clear - this 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," Camp said.
"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."
The new rules define more previously acceptable activities by nonprofit groups as prohibited "candidate-related political activity." Communications and activities including voter registration drives and publishing voter guides, among others, are now classified as political activity. Grants and donations that 501(c)(4)'s give to other nonprofits are now subject to new record-keeping and increased scrutiny to prevent the money's use for broadly-defined political activity.
The rules were "drafted in a manner, in my view, to shut down tea party groups" Rep. Camp said earlier this week.
The Wall Street Journal points out that the rules govering non-profits haven't changed since 1959. It strains credulity to believe that the IRS got a sudden burr under its saddle to make changes to the rules at exactly the same moment when the Tea Party was rising. Political activity by non profits was not a new phenomenon. What's new was the IRS deliberate foot dragging and harrassment of conservative groups opposed to the president.