Careful what you whiiine about, Republicans.
After months of Republicans putting on a show over being targeted by the IRS, only to find out that they were deliberately keeping documents from the public that proved that liberals were also being “targeted” (which means that no one was being targeted), the issue of alleged social-welfare groups claiming tax exempt status took the spotlight.
And things don’t look so hot under that spotlight, post Citizens United. The Treasury Department is proposing new guidelines to social welfare groups applying for tax-exempt status.
“This proposed guidance is a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations,” said Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark J. Mazur. “We are committed to getting this right before issuing final guidance that may affect a broad group of organizations. It will take time to work through the regulatory process and carefully consider all public feedback as we strive to ensure that the standards for tax-exemption are clear and can be applied consistently.”
They will now disqualify from 501 (c)(4) status based on the term “candidate-related political activity.” The Treasury Department announcement explained, “This proposed guidance defines the term “candidate-related political activity,” and would amend current regulations by indicating that the promotion of social welfare does not include this type of activity. The proposed guidance also seeks initial comments on other aspects of the qualification requirements, including what proportion of a 501(c)(4) organization’s activities must promote social welfare.”
Under the proposed guidelines, candidate-related political activity includes communications, grants and contributions (hello Karl Rove), and activities closely related to elections or candidates. They are also going to determine exactly how much of a groups activities can be candidate-related political activity.
Just a few days ago, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS was busted by a ProPublica reporter for filing ‘bullsh*t” documents with the IRS. At issue was misused grant money:
It looks as if Rove’s group is playing a shell game with non-profit grants in order to qualify for “social welfare” status. ProPublica got their hands on Crossroads GPS’ 2012 tax return — “signed under penalty of perjury” they remind us — in which Crossroads cited grants of $35 million to nonprofits.
The return “specified that the grants would be used for social welfare purposes, ‘and not for political expenditures, consistent with the organization’s tax-exempt mission.’ But that’s not what happened,” per Barker.
There’s no sign that Crossroads GPS is being investigated over that issue, and I took the IRS to task for being neutered by the conservative outrage. How was I to know that a day later they would release their new guidelines, taking aim at issues unveiled in Rove’s tax documents. I stand corrected and slightly amazed.
Guess where they got some of these ideas? Oh, from “unsolicited” comments from the public. I remember quite a few outraged comments during the phony IRS scandal as the spotlight shone on the egregious abuse of the “social welfare” claim made by big, dark money groups.
In defining the new term, “candidate-related political activity,” Treasury and the IRS drew upon existing definitions of political activity under federal and state campaign finance laws, other IRS provisions, as well as suggestions made in unsolicited public comments.
The Treasury Department noted “considerable public focus” on an organization’s social welfare activities. So, “Due to the importance of this aspect of the regulation, the proposed guidance requests initial comments on this issue.”
The Treasury Department is a cabinet position within the White House, so when they make changes like the guidelines they proposed on Tuesday, it’s coming from the Obama administration.
Tweaking interpretations of rules and setting guidelines is all well within the purview of the administration. Republicans are already screeching like banshees mourning their political impotence on executive branch matters, but they do that whenever Obama acts like he was actually elected president. Get some ear plugs and enjoy the show.