John Tate: New IRS Rules Benefit the Political Class, Harm the People

Here is Campaign for Liberty President John Tate statement for the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means Oversight Hearing on the IRS. The hearing took place on February 5. Mr. Tate's comments focused on why the IRS new rules on "candidate activity" violates the First Amendment by limiting the ability of Campaign for Liberty members’ to impact the policy process:

Statement by Campaign for Liberty President John Tate for the Oversight of the IRS hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Committee on Ways and Means

February 5, 2014

Chairman Boustany, Ranking Member Lewis, and members of the Oversight Subcommittee, thank you for holding this important hearing.  I am submitting this statement on behalf of nearly three quarters of a million Campaign for Liberty grassroots activists across the country.  Campaign for Liberty opposes the proposed IRS regulations on so-called “candidate-related activity” by 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations. These new rules violate the cherished First Amendment rights of our members and supporters to actively participate in the public policy process.  Instead, Campaign for Liberty strongly supports all efforts, such as Chairman Camp’s “Stop Targeting Political Beliefs by the IRS Act,” H.R. 3865, to bar these misguided rules.

The new proposed rules threaten 501(c)(4) “social welfare organizations” with loss of their tax-exempt status if they send a “communication” to their members or the general public mentioning a candidate for office sixty days before an election.  This would prohibit Campaign for Liberty from communicating information to our members regarding the voting records of their elected officials at the very time the public is most interested in receiving such information, and more importantly at the one time politicians are most likely to listen to the views of their constituents.  The rules would also prohibit us from mobilizing Americans to let their representative and senators know their position on important pieces of legislation.  The proposed rules would even prohibit Campaign for Liberty’s state and local affiliates from hosting non-partisan candidate forums where members of the public could discuss their concerns with the candidates.  

Many Americans simply do not have time to keep up on Congress’ activities, so they join groups such as Campaign for Liberty that work to advance the issues they care about.  By informing our members of developments at the federal, state, and local levels of government and encouraging them to contact their representatives to let them know their views on the legislative issues of importance to them, we enhance our members’ ability to directly affect the legislative process.  I am at a loss as to how the American people, as opposed to the political class, benefit from an IRS rule making it more difficult for American citizens to affect and understand public policy.

Protecting the ability of Americans to receive information about their elected officials and to mobilize and influence their elected representatives to support or oppose certain issues is one of the main purposes of the First Amendment.  Campaign for Liberty has chosen to operate as a 501(c)(4) because doing so is the most effective way to pursue our mission.  The 501(c)(4) designation is available for groups that work to promote “social welfare.”  We and other groups promote social welfare by working to involve Americans in the public policy process to achieve certain legislative goals.  For the IRS to threaten this status because we exercise our First Amendment rights to name active candidates in our communications, and because we ask our members to contact these candidates directly on important legislative issues, is to discriminate against us because of the content of our communications.  This type of content discrimination violates the First Amendment.

The proposed IRS rule restricting the ability of 501(c)(4) organizations to communicate to their members and the general public information about candidates’ positions on important issues, as well as to mobilize their members to voice their concerns on specific legislation, violates the First Amendment and makes it more difficult for ordinary Americans to impact the policy process.  On behalf of nearly three quarters of a million Campaign for Liberty grassroots activists across the country, I urge Congress reject this rule by passing Chairman Camp’s H.R. 3865.

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