IRS Commissioner: Agency Still Working on Political Activity Rules

In testimony before Congress last week, John Koskinen said the Internal Revenue Service is continuing to redraft rules governing what, if any, political activity 501(c)(4) organizations will be allowed to partake in.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is still considering how much political activity is appropriate for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told lawmakers last week.

Koskinen testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing that the IRS is weeding through more than 150,000 comments received earlier this year as it works to redraft rules governing 501(c)(4) political activity. Koskinen was called to the hearing for an update on the missing emails of certain IRS officials related to the agency’s reported targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Several Democrats on the subcommittee urged the IRS to consider the discrepancy between the statutory language, which says 501(c)(4) groups should be engaged exclusively in social welfare activities, and the agency’s regulatory interpretation of the law, which requires such groups be engaged “primarily” in social welfare.

Koskinen said the IRS is “looking at the entire range of possibilities” as to whether 501(c)(4) groups should be restricted from any political activity, or whether some percentage of political activity might be permissible.

In June, Koskinen announced that the IRS will issue new rules in early 2015 that will not only seek to define what constitutes political activity, but also whether restrictions on that activity should apply to 501(c)(5) labor unions and (c)(6) associations as well. The first draft of the rules, released last fall, was more strictly focused on 501(c)(4) groups that have proliferated in recent years and don’t have to disclose their donors.

ASAE submittedcomments on the first draft of the rules earlier this year and voiced concern that the IRS was proposing to expand the definition of “candidate-related political activity” to include nonpartisan activities such as candidate forums, get-out-the-vote efforts, and voter education.

“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.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. (via the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee's Facebook page)

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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