On Tax Day, IRS Chief Delivers Some Good News

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  • Dale Eisman

“Americans rarely have anything good to say about the tax collector, particularly today,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs. “But Commissioner John Koskinen’s announcement Monday that the IRS intends to continue working to establish clearer rules for politically-active social welfare groups is welcome news.

“Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, political operatives have used the social welfare tax exemption to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into our elections while hiding the identity of the donors. It’s past time to bring that dark money into the sunshine,” Hobert Flynn said. 

Common Cause is among many non-profits that have serious reservations about the original IRS draft — it would categorize important voter engagement activity, like nonpartisan voter registration, as candidate-related political activity. But the agency can easily modify those proposed rules to focus on the type of major political spending that requires groups to register as a Section 527 political organization and disclose their donors without burdening groups engaged in legitimate, non-partisan work, she asserted.

As political committees, current social welfare groups like Republican strategist Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA, a prominent supporter of President Obama, would retain their tax-exempt status. “The only thing that would change is that voters would be able to see who is funding those groups and using them to influence our elections,” Hobert Flynn said.

“Although most groups that submitted public comments about the proposed rules favored fixing them, a chorus of hard-edged partisans who’ve prospered under the agency’s existing, outdated rules and lack of enforcement generated a flood of comments against the proposed change. Some of them clearly hoped to bully the IRS into ignoring its responsibility to uphold the law; it’s nice to see Commissioner Koskinen stand up to them,” Hobert Flynn said.