Above Photo: While the US Congress may have postponed the enforcement of the IRS muzzle rule once again, they missed the opportunity to stop this threat to free speech for good. (Photo: New Statesman)
Note: A new IRS rule was set to take effect on October 1, 2016, that would severely limit the ability of nonprofit organizations to engage in free speech. The IRS seeks to redefinie “electioneering” to include the mere mention of a political candidate’s name or how he or she voted on a given issue. Congress must make the definition of electioneering that was established in the Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court case permanent by putting into their next budget bill a permanent prohibition on the IRS from passing this rule. For more see: “IRS Scheme to Redefine Electioneering Imperils Political Speech.” KZ
The draft of the House of Representatives’ financial-services appropriations bill contains language very similar to what was passed last year to defund the IRS from implementing the nonprofit muzzle rule. If enforced, the rule would harm the nonprofit community by curtailing their First Amendment right to speech and creating legal exposure for accidentally violating these new draconian limits.
It’s well and good that the IRS will be prohibited another year from carrying out this rule, but unfortunately this bill leaves the door open for the IRS to move forward with their mandate the following year. Nobody knows which party will control the White House or either chamber of Congress next year, and party leadership might change as well.
So, if Congress is willing to pass legislation that prohibits the nonprofit muzzle rule for another year, and the president is willing to sign it, then why limit it to just one year?
The House clearly has no problem with legislating in appropriations bills. Section 107, for example, reads: “None of the funds made available under this or any other Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to target citizens of the United States for exercising any right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
So why does Section 127 of the bill, defunding the IRS’s nonprofit muzzle rule, need to be qualified by saying: “During fiscal year 2017…”
Leaving open the possibility of the IRS proceeding to implement the rule next year means nonprofit groups and civil society still face the risk of having their free-speech rights denied down the road.
It is unfortunate that Congress did not take the opportunity in this bill to resolve the matter once and for all and prevent the IRS from continuing to threaten the speech of our nonprofit community.
The issue will remain unresolved in perpetuity until Congress prohibits the rule for good. Nobody knows who our next president, our next IRS commissioner, or our next House speaker and Senate majority leader will be. Until Congress closes the matter, the issue remains unsettled, regardless of temporary prohibitions.
Help pressure our representatives into doing what is right on this issue by joining the Tax Revolution Institute’s First Amendment Alliance. The clock is still ticking.