Vulnerable Senate Dems look to IRS to save their pathetic careers

Vulnerable Senate Democrats hope the Internal Revenue Service will speed up implementing proposed rules that would legitimatize and institutionalize the power agency’s targeting of conservative groups, or, at least, that’s the conclusion one can draw from this report via The Hill:

Senate Democrats facing tough elections this year want the Internal Revenue Service to play a more aggressive role in regulating outside groups expected to spend millions of dollars on their races.

In the wake of the IRS targeting scandal, the Democrats are publicly prodding the agency instead of lobbying them directly. They are also careful to say the IRS should treat conservative and liberal groups equally, but they’re concerned about an impending tidal wave of attack ads funded by GOP-allied organizations. Much of the funding for those groups is secret, in contrast to the donations lawmakers collect, which must be reported publicly.
“If they’re claiming the tax relief, the tax benefit to be a nonprofit for social relief or social justice, then that’s what they should be doing,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D), who faces a competitive race in Alaska. “If it’s to give them cover so they can do political activity, that’s abusing the tax code. And either side.”

Asked if the IRS should play a more active role policing political advocacy by groups that claim to be focused on social welfare, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) responded, “Absolutely.”

“Both on the left and the right,” she said. “As taxpayers, we should not be providing a write-off to groups to do political activity, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The ad focuses heavily on Americans for Prosperity, a group that has spent millions running issue ads in the states and districts of vulnerable Democrats. Keep in mind that the ads AFP and others are running aren’t campaign ads, but they are designed to nudge public sentiment on public policy matters.

Now, the ads can’t tell people to “vote against” a particular incumbent, but it can urge them to educate voters on policy and tell them to take action by calling the representative mentioned in the ad. That is social welfare.

And while these vulnerable Senate Democrats are trying to frame their narrative around the tax angle, the issue is, ultimately, about free speech. The proposed guidance that the IRS is currently considering would significantly curtail the ability of groups to engage in the public policy process, according to the ACLU:

The proposed rules rightly lay out a bright-line, but one that cuts in exactly the wrong direction. They would now also count as partisan political activity a vast amount of public policy advocacy that has absolutely nothing to do with partisan politicking. In other words, under the proposed rules, the IRS could find that the primary purpose of totally nonpartisan groups is electioneering.

The new rules would, for instance, count as political activity any communication that simply mentions a candidate 60 days before an election or 30 days before a primary. Furthermore, any sharply worded communication that the IRS could construe as support or opposition to a candidate (e.g. “call Senator Doe and urge her to finally do the right thing on the deficit”), regardless of whether there’s an election coming, would also count as political activity. The rules would also count against a group’s permissible allotment of political activity completely nonpartisan voter education, registration, and mobilization efforts.

The proposed rules could pose a significant chilling effect on issue advocacy engaged in by many nonprofits.

All campaign finance reform revolves around on one basic premise: incumbent protection. These Senate Democrats know they’re in trouble, and they’re looking for protection from the IRS rather than face the ramifications of going along with President Obama’s agenda without much hesitation.

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