Emails reveal IRS, Justice Department sought to prosecute tax-exempt groups

The IRS scandal just got a little bigger. The powerful tax agency and the Justice Department sought to prosecute tax-exempt groups that were suspected of engaging in political activity, according to emails obtained by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group.

The emails released by Judicial Watch reveal that Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of congressional inquiries into the scandal, received a phone call from a Justice Department official who wanted to look into prosecuting tax-exempt groups for making “false statements.” That idea, they note, was floated by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The email exchange took place between May 8 and May 9, 2013. Lerner revealed that the IRS had scrutinized groups seeking nonprofit status on May 10, setting off a political firestorm for the Obama administration and the IRS, one that continues today.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Judicial Watch obtained emails dating back to March and April 2013. In an email dated March, 27, 2013, for example, Lerner explains that “several groups of folks from the FEC world” were looking to shutdown groups with tax-exempt status, adding that ”[o]ne IRS prosecution would make an impact.”

First Amendment wins big at the Supreme Court

In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on how much an individual can give to candidates and committees in an election cycle.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the plurality-backed opinion, noted that the “case does not involve any challenge to the base limits,” meaning that individual-to-candidate contribution limits still apply. Those limits were upheld in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), which, the opinion states, “serv[e] the permissible objective of combatting corruption.”

“We conclude, however, that the aggregate limits do little, if anything, to address that concern, while seriously restricting participation in the democratic process,” wrote Roberts. “The aggregate limits are therefore invalid under the First Amendment.”

Before McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, an individual could give up to $48,600 to candidates and another $74,600 to political action committees and/or political parties in each election cycle. Shaun McCutcheon, a businessman from Alabama, challenged the caps on political giving, arguing that the limitations were a violation of his free speech rights.

Roberts concedes that the federal government has a “strong interest” to combat corruption, but he goes on to explain that “this interest must be limited to…quid pro quo corruption.”

Today in Liberty: FEC wants answers from Harry Reid, pollster warns Democrats on Obamacare

Today in Liberty is a daily roundup of recent political news and other interesting stories presented with liberty-minded commentary. We frequently keep tabs on liberty-minded politicians and candidates in these updates. We also inject some humor on occasion. Click here to receive Today in Liberty every morning via email.

— Harry Reid’s campaign expenditures come into question: So…the FEC wants details about $16,786 in “holiday gifts” purchased for donors and supporters of Friends of Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader’s campaign name. “The gifts,” Jon Ralston reports, “were purchased from his granddaughter, Ryan Elisabeth Reid, who is a jewelry vendor in Berkeley, CA. The gifts were later passed on to donors and supporters, a Reid spokeswoman told me.” Reid’s campaign tried to hide the disbursement by listing his granddaughter’s name as “Ryan Elisabeth” rather than disclosing her full name. The FEC has given Friends of Harry Reid until April 25 to respond to its inquiry.

Ted Cruz urges IRS to scrap proposed anti-speech regulations

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has fired off a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen urging him to kill proposed regulations that will stifle free speech and, instead, rely on Federal Election Commission rules that define political activity related to outside organizations.

“It is disturbing that the IRS is proposing new rules that would attempt to further limit the free speech rights of Americans, while the IRS and the Department of Justice still refuse to provide the American people with all the facts surrounding the IRS’s targeting of certain organizations based on their political activity,” Cruz wrote in the letter (embedded below).

“The IRS’s proposed rules would stifle political activity by preventing 501(c)(4) groups from engaging in political speech and voter registration that these groups have been engaged in for decades,” he continues. “Given the IR’s recent targeting of conservative groups based on their political activity, these rules would only further politicize an already trouble agency.”

The rules include the basic tenets of the DISCLOSE Act, a measure pushed by Democrats since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, which was a landmark victory for free speech.

The rules would have the effect of silencing outside groups, preventing them from participating in the public policy process. By requiring outside groups to disclose contributions, it will give those who oppose them the ability to bully their donors.

Supreme Court takes another look at campaign finance

The Supreme Court waded back into the murky waters of campaign finance regulations on Tuesday by hearing arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission, a case dealing with the aggregate limit in place on the amount of dollars a person can give in a single election cycle.

As the law is currently written, an individual can give up to $48,600 to candidates (one could max out to 17 candidates) and another $74,600 to political action committees (PACs) and/or political parties in each election cycle. But Shaun McCutcheon, a businessman from Alabama, is challenging this cap on political giving, noting that it’s a violation of his free speech rights, as campaign donations are a form a speech in the United States.

Supporters of campaign finance reform are calling the case “Citizens United II,” after the landmark case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), which overturned much of a 2002 law limiting political speech. President Barack Obama said yesterday that the Citizens United has “contributed to some of the problems we’re having in Washington right now,” tying the case to the government shutdown and debate ceiling debates.

Lerner to be Recalled to Committee, Placed on Administrative Leave

Lois Lerner

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced that he would recall Lois Lerner, the embattled director of the IRS’s Tax Exempt Division, to testify on the agency’s discrimination of Tea Party and conservative groups.

Lerner appeared before the committee on Wednesday, but invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. But before doing so, Lerner made an opening statement in which she declared herself innocent of any wrong-doing. Issa believes that Lerner waived her rights with her opening statement:

Issa said Thursday he had concluded that Lerner waived her rights against self-incrimination when she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights at a Wednesday hearing.

Lerner, who runs an IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, defended her actions in an opening statement before invoking the Fifth, and Republicans say that meant she had waived her privileges against self-incrimination.
“After consulting with counsel, Chairman Issa has concluded that Ms. Lerner’s 5th Amendment assertion is no longer valid,” Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for Issa, said in a statement Thursday. “She remains under subpoena, the Committee is looking at recalling her for testimony.”

Issa recessed – rather than adjourned – Wednesday’s hearing, which keeps Lerner under the original subpoena.

What You Probably Haven’t Heard About Citizens United

As the election is quickly approaching, TV viewers across the country will no longer be bombarded with non-stop ads from Super PACs and interest groups. And Wednesday would be a good time to have a discussion about the future of campaign finance.

In early 2008, a group called Citizens United sought to air commercials for their documentary that was highly critical of then-Senator Hillary Clinton. This appeared to violate federal election rules that prohibited corporations and unions from broadcasting “electioneering communications” within 60 days of an election. Citizens United sued the Federal Election Commission and ultimately won a landmark Supreme Court case that expanded corporations’ right to political speech.

The issue of campaign finance is hotly contested. Many argue that Citizens United has opened up a floodgate of corporate spending that threatens to erode American democracy. They also argue that a corporations should not have the same rights as individuals.

In this video, Professor Brad Smith of Capital University explains why he believes the Supreme Court made the correct decision in Citizens United. He argues that restrictions on corporate speech violate our Constitutional right to free speech.

It’s a touchy subject, as people generally don’t concern themselves with defending the rights of well-financed organizations and corporations. But in a free society, citizens must be allowed to come together and present their argument. More speech is better than less speech.

Former FEC Chair Brad Smith on Why Libertarians Should Vote for Romney

Brad Smith

My friend who teaches at my alma mater’s law school, Professor Brad Smith, a libertarian, was the Federal Elections Chairman and is an outspoken advocate for free speech and smaller government.

So ,when I saw him post at Division of Labour blog as to why he is voting for Gov. Mitt Romney… “with entusiasim“… I had to share with our readers some of his reasoning:

3. Entitlements and Spending.

Beyond the possibility of repealing the massive entitlement of Obamacare if Romney is elected, Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has been a congressional leader in attempting to reform entitlements. No, he is not the Randian that the Democrats wish to make him out to be, much as many libertarians wish he were. But let’s be clear. No politician is going to be elected President in the near future on a pledge to abolish the entitlement state.

The Romney/Ryan plan for entitlement reform is the closest thing we have to a meaningful first step at reform – indeed, it is meaningful reform. There may never come a time when a majority of Americans are prepared for more radical reform, let alone an end to entitlements. If this is the reform we can get, it is necessary and good, and consistent with libertarian values. If an end to entitlements is one’s goal, successful, incremental reforms are probably a necessary step toward reshaping Americans’ mindset.

Obama currently stands as the single biggest obstacle to any consideration of entitlement reform. Romney and Ryan have taken on the issue in as strong a manner as any presidential ticket since Barry Goldwater in 1964. Libertarian voters need to reward such politicians, not ignore them because their proposals are deemed insufficiently libertarian.

Learn Liberty: Is Money Speech?

See Video

Should you have to disclose your political contributions?

In a new video from Learn Liberty, Professor Brad Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), discusses a scenario where Congress passes a law, in order to ensure that parties weren’t being infiltrated by terrorists, that would require all Americans to disclose their political activity — call it, as he says, the “PATRIOT II Act.” . This information, says Smith, would be made available in an online database for all to see, including prospective employers and neighbors. You would no doubt say that this is an invasion of your privacy.

But it may surprise you to find out that such a law, though not under the pretenses outlined by Smith, already exists. The Federal Elections Campaign Act of 1974 allows the government to track campaign donations and spending, making it available online for anyone to see.

With the Citizens United decision a frequent target of President Barack Obama, who constantly lies about the impact of the case, and Democrats and the rise of so-called “super PACs,” the debate over campaign disclosure laws deserve more debate and discussion, as well as attention paid to privacy.

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