IRS Forging Ahead With 501(c)(4) Rules

In an interview with the Washington Post, the head of the IRS said the agency is still reviewing comments on proposed rules that would redefine “candidate-related political activity” by 501(c)(4) groups and predicted that the rulemaking process would continue through the end of the year.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen said this week that the agency is moving forward with plans to develop new rules that limit the political activities of 501(c)(4) tax-exempt groups.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Koskinen said the IRS is still reviewing more than 150,000 comments received earlier this year—a record number for any proposed rulemaking by the IRS. Despite considerable criticism of the new rules, Koskinen said the rulemaking is needed to clarify political activity rules for certain tax-exempt organizations. He added, however, that the rules are likely to be rewritten after the IRS has a chance to study all of the comments it received.

“When you have this many comments, you have to listen to them,” Koskinen told the Post. “My goal is to have an open mind about this so I don’t come at it with a prejudgment.”

The proposed rules would redefine “candidate-related political activity” by 501(c)(4) groups to include activities such as candidate forums or meet-and-greets, get-out-the-vote efforts, and voter education. The IRS also asked for comments on whether the new rules should be applied to 501(c)(5) labor groups and 501(c)(6) trade and professional associations as well.

ASAE submitted comments to the IRS in February, arguing that the agency’s new definition of “political activity” to include candidate forums and issue-related communications sent out close to elections inhibits the free speech rights of tax-exempt organizations.

“Instead of providing a bright-line test for what constitutes political intervention, the expanded definition of ‘candidate-related political activity’ in the proposed rulemaking would regulate far more speech or advocacy than is warranted and could create a chilling effect on the role nonprofit organizations play in fostering civic engagement and democracy,” ASAE said.

Koskinen said that the IRS will schedule a public hearing on the rules sometime this summer and that the rulemaking process will likely continue through the end of the year.


Chris Vest, CAE

By Chris Vest, CAE

Chris Vest, CAE is vice president, corporate communications and public relations at ASAE. MORE

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