IRS to get ‘license to kill’ groups that oppose Obama agenda

Image by Ernest Istook
Image by Ernest Istook

WASHINGTON, January 7, 2014 — The Internal Revenue Service is getting a special new power: a “license to kill” groups that oppose the Obama agenda. James Bond’s license to kill isn’t nearly as broad.

The power to tax is the power to destroy. Its new powers will let the IRS destroy certain groups, especially those connected to the Tea Party, by imposing a tax on their work and messages during campaign seasons. Even the value of volunteer work could be taxed.

Suspicion traces the plan directly to President Barack Obama, since he personally met with IRS chief counsel William Wilkins — an Obama political appointee and long-time supporter — in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 23, 2012, two days before the IRS issued its key internal directives to target Tea Party and other conservative groups.

Now, unless Congress acts quickly to block them, new IRS regulations will deliver a death penalty to many of almost 100,000 grass-roots non-profits known as 501(c)(4) groups. They often provide information to the public about political issues, befitting their tax requirement to benefit social welfare.

The IRS wants to create a new bureaucratic definition that re-labels those common voter information activities by re-naming them “candidate-related political activity.” For short, IRS calls it CRPA, but CRAP would fit better.

This is actually a gag rule. But the IRS’s new speech restrictions do not apply to labor unions, trade associations, political parties, or other non-profit groups such as 501(c)(3)’s. The impact is limited to the 501(c)(4)’s, which are the favorite vehicle for Tea Party groups.

(Full disclosure: The author is a board member of a national 501(c)(4), the Tea Party Patriots.)

The Left also has 501(c)(4) non-profits which could be muzzled by the new rules. But the Obama Administration is notorious for selective enforcement, meaning it could choose to give a pass to friendly groups while it puts conservatives out of business. They could use this in efforts to shut down groups like the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association, while ignoring People for the American Way, American Civil Liberties Union, USAction and the Democratic Leadership Council.

Here’s how the IRS’s new license to kill would work:

  • Anything that mentions or has any connection to a candidate or public official is deemed restricted speech (CRPA), even when it otherwise meets the organization’s goals. Details of all communications must be reported to the IRS whenever it occurs within 60 days of a general election or within 30 days of primaries.
  • The restrictions also apply regarding procedures to select party officers, such as a precinct, district or state party chairman, plus nominations or confirmations of an appointed official such as a judge, agency head or cabinet officer.
  • These communications must all be reported to the IRS so they can be compiled, catalogued and taxed. Donations made during those periods would be treated 100 percent as campaign contributions, and taxed.

Also newly-restricted are:

  • Voter registration drives
  • Candidate forums and debates
  • Voter guides
  • Voting record listings of incumbents
  • Public statements by officers and leaders of (c)(4)’s that reference incumbents and candidates

Under a pretense of being reasonable, the rules create traps. For example, adding restrictions “within 30 days of a primary election” becomes a permanent election year restriction for a national group, since elections are staggered throughout the calendar among the states and Internet material is available from anywhere.

The IRS’s goal clearly is not regulation, guidance or disclosure of political activity, but outright suppression of it. It’s an elaborate excuse to justify removing the First Amendment rights of those who oppose Obama’s agenda.

Big money groups aren’t the true targets; they can always re-organize into some other form to avoid restrictions on 501(c)(4) groups. The hardest impact will be on grass-roots organizations, which depend on smaller donors and lots of volunteers.

Meantime, Obama will do his usual posturing, preening and accusing, claiming he’s protecting democracy from abusive secretive groups backed by “dark money” from fat cat donors. His actual agenda is to silence and punish those who disagree with him. The White House will hide behind the IRS. In turn, the IRS will hide behind a claim of protecting taxpayer confidentiality; they will stonewall both the public and the Congress.

The plan is not yet set in concrete. The regulations were published just after Thanksgiving and must go through a public comment period that expires February 27. Every citizen has the right to comment. The simplest way is:

  • Go to the federal website
  • Access docket “IRS Reg-134417-13”
  • Click on the “Comment Now!” button
  • Have your say.

All comments become part of the public record. You can read what others say and they can read what you say.

Congress can block the regulations. But unless they do that as part of the IRS budget that will pass Congress in the next week or two, there won’t be another opportunity this year to block these regulations.

Even while Obama tries to suppress the Tea Party and conservatives, he will continue to use government resources for his propaganda, like the $684-million (minimum) spent to promote Obamacare. He also has the IRS’s $12-billion budget. It’s scary to contemplate the manpower and gadgetry that Obama’s IRS can marshal against his political opponents. It far outweighs what MI-6 and Q could provide to James Bond.

Obama can call upon the IRS’s army of 90,000 workers, with 4,300 investigators, 13,000 revenue agents, 2,600 special agents, 9,500 tax examiners and 1,500 attorneys on-staff.

For snooping, the IRS’s National Computer Center boasts data storage for over one quadrillion bits of information, with ability to track not only credit card and e-payment transactions, but also eBay auctions and Facebook posts. They can search for tax cheats — or monitor the Tea Party. By comparison, the intrusive letters from the IRS will look tame.

Giving the IRS a license to kill is a scary thought. Obama’s willingness to make political use of the IRS ought to have every American feeling somewhat like James Bond’s martinis: very, very shaken. Yet we also should be stirred — stirred to action to stop this.

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Ernest Istook spent 25 years in public office, including 14 years in Congress. He was rated one of the top 25 conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives. Then was a Heritage Foundation fellow and a fellow at Harvard's Insitute of Politics, where he led a study group on Propaganda in American Politics Today. Now as a radio host and a commentator, Ernest aims to expose Washington's gimmicks--to help you avoid the pitfalls. He brings clarity out of the confusion. Native to Texas, Ernest transplanted to Oklahoma after graduating from Baylor University.