Thursday, September 02, 2010

IRS Must Define Political Activity

From the

The Aug. 22 article "Ruling sets up IRS as overseer of groups' gifts to campaigns" portrayed the ineffectiveness of the Internal Revenue Service enforcing disclosure on political spending. While the problem stems in part from an agency operating on "tax time," a fundamental reason the IRS cannot meaningfully enforce rules on nonprofit groups' political activity is its failure to give clear rules defining what is considered "political”.

For decades, the agency has relied on a "know it when we see it" approach, otherwise called the "facts and circumstances" test. In contrast to clear, practical rules that define lobbying for nonprofits, groups interested in political advocacy have little guidance and must guess how regulators will characterize their messages. It is this regulatory failure that allows Americans for Job Security to claim that its ads are issue advocacy and not electoral activity.

In the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the IRS needs to step up and take on the hard task of providing guidance that defines political activity. Nonprofit organizations struggling to comply with vague rules and the public deserve no less.

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