Obama Administration Proposes Rule to Limit Political Activity by Non-Profits, But Will It Affect Pro-Obama Groups?

like debbie did dallas?OFACriticized by its own Inspector General earlier this year on the IRS targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny, the Treasury Department appears to be doubling down, proposing a new rule to restrict political speech by non-profits. The Washington Post reports

Under the proposed rule, groups such as Crossroads GPS, co-founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, and the Democratic-allied League of Conservation Voters would no longer be able to claim some of their routine activities as part of their work as “social welfare” organizations.

Instead, the new Treasury Department regulation would define things such as distributing voter guides, registering people to vote and running ads that mention elected officials close to Election Day as “candidate-related political activities.” The rule would substantially roll back the level of political activity open to “social welfare” groups.

Unmentioned by the Washington Post is one of the biggest 501(c)4s  of them all, Organizing for Action (OFA, former Obama for America), which still operates the website barackobama.com and the president’s Twitter feed.  OFA has been very active since the 2012 election in promoting President Obama’s and the Democrats’ agenda. See some of their, uh, “social welfare” work here.  

Other non-profit groups have gone to bat for Obama’s policies too, sometimes under the guise of being non-partisan yet specifically tailored in support of a distinctly political agenda. Capital City Project reports, for example, that Families USA, a “non-partisan” non-profit focusing on “affordable health care for all Americans” received a $1 million grant to collect pro-Obamacare stories. Capital City Project points out those stories then get picked up by media outlets who source them to an “independent” or non-partisan group, even though it’s a group whose mission lines up neatly with the title of the president’s signature legislation. 

It’s a safe bet non-profits that support the agenda of the ruling party (for now Democrats) won’t be as negatively affected by the proposed rule and other attempts at government regulation as non-profits challenging those in power. The IRS’ targeting of Tea Party and “patriot” groups speaks to that. Money facilitates speech, and in this country at least, the exercise of speech is free. The Treasury Department ought to be disengaging from the practice of regulating what amount to groups exercising free speech, not proposing new rules to further restrict political speech it doesn’t favor.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It’s a safe bet non-profits that support the agenda of the ruling party (for now Democrats) won’t be as negatively affected by the proposed rule and other attempts at government regulation as non-profits challenging those in power.

    What are you basing that unfounded accusation on?

    The IRS’ targeting of Tea Party and “patriot” groups speaks to that.

    Oh, that.

  • Dweebston||

    What sort of cynical asshole suggests that a nonpartisan body devoted to maintaining the revenue to fund this great country of ours would abuse its discretion...again.

  • Dweebston||

    I'll start worrying about non-profits exercising their 1A rights when the media abdicates its collective role as the president's water-carrier.

  • Killazontherun||

    ^this. And even then I'm not worried because the only thing that should be banned is taxation on speech and the public funding of speech. Two things the Goddamned proglodytes are in love with, Goddamn them.

  • ||

    constantly hammering free speech. shut up!

  • Homple||

    "Will it affect pro-Obama groups?"

    To ask that question is to answer it.

    It's not what's in the law, it's who decides whether or not to enforce it against whom.

  • Almanian!||

    "Let me be clear - if you like your tax exempt status, you may or may not get to keep it. Period."

  • Yar||

    Now that's some quality alt-text right there Ed. Nice work. Take the rest of the day off.

  • ||

    Some of us don't want to be reminded of Debbie Does Dallas.

    "Oh, Mr. Hardwick!"

  • Killazontherun||

    The Devil In Mrs. Jones.

    'Give them Hell,Mrs. Jones!'

  • Spiny Norman||

    Best of the year, easy.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    THIS

  • Aresen||

    How about a simpler solution: End the tax breaks for "charitable" contributions?

    If you want to donate to something, do it. Don't expect a 'favor' in return.

    (I put 'favor' in quotes because I don't consider "we'll let you keep more of your own money" a true favor.)

  • John||

    These groups don't get that tax break. They are only "nonprofit" to the extent that they don't have to pay income taxes.

    You could solve this problem by getting rid of corporate income taxes. Then no one has to pay taxes so no one worries about who is nonprofit and who isn't.

    I would love to get rid of the charitable deduction. But not until we make taxes a lot lower and much more flat. Get rid of all deductions and have a low flat tax and let any group say anything they want. Life would be much easier.

  • Almanian!||

    Hear, hear!!

  • ||

    I second that motion.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    -the new Treasury Department regulation would define things such as distributing voter guides, registering people to vote and running ads that mention elected officials close to Election Day as “candidate-related political activities

    Apart from valid concerns about biased enforcement these rules actually seem reasonable to me. Distributing voter guides and running ads that mention elected officials strikes me as more political and candidate related than 'social welfare'* related.

    * Standard libertarian statements on the wisdom of separating certain entities out for preferential tax treatment based on their motive should, of course, apply

  • sloopyinca||

    Distributing voter guides and running ads that mention elected officials strikes me as more political and candidate related than 'social welfare'* related.

    It's also free speech. And by definition that should never, ever be regulated.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Well, it is tricky I think. Essentially what you are talking about is that any organization engaged in speech should get the most preferable tax status possible or it is suffering from a regulation of its speech. I do not think the Washington Post or Random House need to get a non-profit social welfare tax deduction. And, to be honest, I am not sure the Democrat and Republican (or, to be fair in my biases, the LP) Party have to have that either.

  • sloopyinca||

    Why the fuck should any organization not engaged in commerce ever be taxed anyway? Every damn penny that goes into them has already been taxed and their employees are likewise taxed. Taxing the money they bring in is immoral and should be illegal unless they are engaging in commerce of some kind (as a seller).

    What the fuck is so tricky about that?

  • Almanian!||

    THIS ONE! HE'S THE ONE! GET HIM!!

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Of course I agree with you the better solution would be not to tax non-profits at all or to not give any group preferable tax status based on motivation, as I said in my original post.

  • Adam330||

    Pretty sure this isn't about tax deductions. Its about disclosing donors.

  • Killazontherun||

    Exactly. They are always searching for Enemies of the People to expose to the light of Truth. That is second nature to a proglodyte. They don't even consider it as partisan, but part of their duty to create a more equitable society. Socialist are essentially reactionary witch hunters dressed up in modern rhetoric.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    How would distributing voter guides not be considered social welfare?

    I was led to believe that encouraging people to vote was a social good (for this administration anyway)?

    In fact, weren't we all informed through various media and prog groups that it doesn't even matter how stupid/ill-informed the new voter might be - even thinking that they might be is wrong - the more people that vote, the better.

    Of course like all their ideals, they just forgot the standard caveats such as the original version version of voting as a social good has been updated from "the more people that vote the better" to "the more people who vote correctly, the better".

    As the WH is showing us daily - some of us are just better citizens than others.

    & in case you're confused and not sure if you're a good citizen - it works like this:

    If you are fully able to praise the Emperor's clothes while he remains nude - you are a good citizen.

    Anything less... not so much.

  • Adam330||

    Focusing on the definitions kind of misses the point. Its the effect of being put into one category or the other that matters, and I believe that putting a group in the "social welfare" category means it need not disclose donors, while those in the "candidate-related political activities" category do.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I see. Well, I actually do not have a problem, or much of one, with requiring disclosure. If someone is trying to change the laws that rule over me I would like to know about it.

  • sloopyinca||

    But you do know about it. The way elected officials vote is a matter of public record.

    Sorry, but fuck you if you want to take anonymous speech away from people. It's a basic fundamental right. Besides, a better solution is to take as much power away from the government as to make public interest groups and lobbyists irrelevant. Disclosure rules merely stifle speech.

  • Sevo||

    Bo Cara Esq.|11.27.13 @ 12:12PM|#
    ..."I actually do not have a problem, or much of one, with requiring disclosure."...
    You may not, but A1 says "...make NO law..."

  • Michael S. Langston||

    So I can vote anonymously to protect my privacy and say prevent my employer from retaliating if I vote for the pro-Union guy and my employer is decidedly against unions.

    But if I give a single dime to the person I want to vote for - that must be public information?

    Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer my speech free and any laws passed in the US to follow the Constitution - which about speech says this:

    Congress shall pass no law abridging...freedom of speech....

    If you think current restrictions or the restriction you proffer is compatible with free speech then I guess we just disagree on the meaning of some words...

    Like the meaning of "Congress" and "shall" and "pass" and "no" and "law" and "abridging" and "freedom" and "of" and "speech".

  • sloopyinca||

    Obama has already said that his DoJ will selectively enforce provisions of the ACA and certain sections of DADT (when it was applicable) and immigration law. And his IRS has selectively targeted groups that oppose him with considerably greater scrutiny than groups that support him.

    But we can believe when he or his boy Holder tell us that this law would be administered fairly.

  • John||

    Once the President can decide what laws are worthy of enforcement and what laws are not, you no longer have a rule of law.

    I hate that as a matter of principle. But in practical terms, it doesn't bother me that much because I don't like most laws and thus am happy to see them go unenforced. Liberals in contrast love laws and depend on the enforcement of laws to accomplish pretty much everything. Given that, I think getting rid of the rule of law is going to work out a lot worse for liberals than they think it will. The time will come when a conservative President decides that it is no longer worth enforcing various environmental or civil rights laws.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    -The time will come when a conservative President decides that it is no longer worth enforcing various environmental or civil rights laws.

    Exactly. I have to wonder though, in the past liberal environmental groups have sued GOP administrations for not enforcing environmental laws, and they sometimes won. How do they get standing but there is no standing for people to sue under non-enforcement of the ACA and immigration laws?

  • John||

    Environmental laws are written such that they give third parties a private right of action to force the exectutive to enforce the law. So for example if the Fish and Wildlife Service gives an incidental take permit under the ESA to some company and the Sierra Club doesn't like it, the Sierra club can sue Fish and Wildlife asking the District Court to make them properly enforce the law by writing different terms into the permit. EPA and the other agencies that enforce these laws get sued all of the time. If conservatives were any good at lawfare they would be suing the hell out of Fish and Wildlife right now over the killing of endangered bird species by wind farms. If were the wealthy arch villain I always wanted to be, I would take my experience in environmental law and spend my time suing the shit out of the government over the environmental effects of various "green energy" boondoggles and generally making their lives miserable.

    Given that, it would be hard for them to not enforce environmental laws. But the civil rights laws contain no such provisions.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    OK, I see. It seems when things like the immigration laws are written those who want to make sure the executive must enforce them should push to get such private rights of action into them too.

  • John||

    That is a novel idea. I would be very curious to see what would happen when you could sue ICE for not deporting your neighbor.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    It seems to me that if you could show damage from non-enforcement then why not? Let us say that someone who was set to be deported, but then was not under this policy, vandalized your car or something.

  • Zeb||

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Because SCOTUS has rule about other agencies - that citizens have no right to actual protection.

    IE - if you call the cops and they never come - you cannot sue. This is true even if you live in say Chicago or NYC, where they actively restrict your ability to protect yourself.

    Doesn't matter - citizens have no proactive right to be protected by the government.

    So sayeth the court.

  • Dweebston||

    On the other hand, if laws were perfectly and uniformly enforced, the desire to invent new laws and the impetus to repeal onerous laws would adjust commensurately. Selectively enforcing laws merely gives politicians and bureacrats greater leverage in favoring some and ruining others.

  • John||

    You are right. But liberals have lived in a world where they could get power and write a bunch of laws with the expectations that those laws would be enforced no matter who was in power in the future. If we ever get to a point where laws are enforced based on who wins an election and each sides laws are only enforced when it is in power, that is going to suck. But I think it will suck for liberals a lot more.

  • tarran||

    I hate that as a matter of principle.

    I kind of disagree that a rigid rule of law is good in principle.

    There have to be two safety valves:
    1) A law produces an unjust result (eg the guy in NJ who got jailed for having a gun in his car during a move). The power to pardon/commute sentences is intended to be the safety valve.

    2)The cost of enforcing the laws exceeds the resources available to the enforcing entity (eg a DA deciding to focus his energies on pursuing violent criminals and reducing the assets devoted to white collar crime).

    Both these conditions violate the rule of law, but I submit that eliminating them would make government's relationship with society more dysfunctional.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    What about when an official, let us say a high ranking one so we dispense with the 'functionary with little discretion' counter, sincerely believes a law is unconstitutional? Should they have to enforce it?

  • tarran||

    sincerely believes a law is unconstitutional? Should they have to enforce it?

    There are good arguments to back an answer of "Yes", but I think more powerful arguments that say "No."

    Let’s say ad arguendo that Congress passes an unconstitutional law, for example, directing the BATFE to inspect all properties owned by gun purchasers according to BATFE records and IRS records to ensure that all weapons are accounted for, with criminal penalties for any owner who can’t show a transfer that was lawful.

    Now, let’s say the Supreme Court as in the Slaughterhouse cases, just ignores the 4th amendment and says it’s Constitutional.

    The President should be able to ignore the Supreme Court’s mistake. A law doesn’t become Constitutional merely because the judges claim it does. If an actor feels that they are being directed to exceed their lawful power, their oath of office compels them to not obey that direction.

    The Congress can, with the assistance of the Supreme Court, impeach and remove a defiant President. They cannot compel him to act.

  • tarran||

    Now, let’s consider the converse case where the President is deprived of power that is given unconstitutionally to someone else..

    The Congress establishes a congressional fleet control board and transfers the Department of the Navy to report to it.. Again, the Supreme Court rules this Constitutional. The notion that the President should submit to this blatantly unlawful set up puts lie to having a Constitution at all. He must oppose it. He must give orders to the fleet.

    The third case is where the President is deprived of a power he should have which is given to no-one:

    Congress disbands the Navy, fires the staff and directs the President to sell the ships to razor blade makers. In this case, the President must submit. (this is the best scenario I can come up with and I don’t think it’s a satisfactory one and would love alternatives)

    In considering this question, I find myself running up against the fact that the Rule of Law is some platonic ideal that really doesn’t exist (like Anarchy). The Rule of Law is really the Rule of Men interpreting the Law. Men are fallible. Men are on occasion unprincipled. Men are sometimes breathtakingly wise. But they are not perfect; they are not Platonic actors; and we will always live under the Rule of Men.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    The Rule of Law is really the Rule of Men interpreting the Law. Men are fallible.

    Sorry - that's incorrect as interpreting the law is not the same thing, nor even analogous to selective enforcement.

    If you plan to allow selective enforcement openly, then whats really the point of legislating anything anyway?

    Why not, instead of hypocritically claiming we're a free country, just dissolve the whole voting thing and let whomever can take power do what they will?

    I mean - if we're all for selective enforcement - all we need is one President brave enough to not need to enforce the need for elections every so often.

    It's just another law, right?

  • John||

    There is one bit of cosmic justice in all of this. Liberals thought it was great when Obama was using the IRS to fuck with the evil tea baggers. There is one problem. If people lose faith in government, they are no longer going to buy into whatever crusade the liberals are selling. Suppose for a moment that these groups really are abusing the system and there is a legitimate reason to do something to enforce the law. Thanks to Obama that won't matter. Anything the IRS does will be seen by the public as just a cynical political use of the agency to go after his enemies. The next time the liberals stand up and talk about how "we need to go after all of the dirty money in politics", the public won't see them as crusaders for big government. They will just figure they want to go fuck with their enemies. If no one has any faith in the government acting impartially, they are never going to sign on to a program designed to solve some problem.

  • Warty||

    Your lack of lack of faith is disturbing.

  • Almanian!||

    Your lack of a conscience is....a useful evolutionary adaptation.

  • tarran||

    I find his lack of faith thrilling!

    Distrust of the government is healthy and good for society.

  • Warty||

    I mean his faith in leftist morons seeing their fundamental error is disturbing. They won't.

  • PapayaSF||

    But John, promoting Obama and the Democrat agenda is "social welfare," by definition. Just as anything Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, or a Tea Party group does is the opposite of social welfare.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    In my undergrad days we had a 'service learning' requirement, where we had to log 20 hours of 'service to, and engagement in, the larger world around us' to graduate. Most people did traditional charities like helping out at old folks homes, but a significant amount volunteered for more political causes, like Planned Parenthood or the Democrat Party. I did mine for the NRA-ILA and the director was a bit dumbfounded when I proposed it. He offered that most people do the more traditional organizations I spoke of, and then I reminded him of approved projects for PP and the Dems and he went ahead and approved it.

  • Almanian!||

    I read that as "the director was a bit of a dumbfuck".

    Ohhh, my brain...

  • tarran||

    Ha!

    We had that at my high school.

    Interestingly I ended up working at a hospital, because while working on political campaigns met the volunteer requirement, doing volunteer work at the Museum of Science's computer exhibit did not. :)

  • croaker||

    If I had to go through this, I would have spent my "volunteer" hours working for some non-profit legal assistance group that would sue the school board for violating the 13th Amendment.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "Will it affect pro-Obama groups?"

    Don't you get it? They're not "pro-Obama". They're pro-Truth. It just so happens Obama is Truth made manifest upon this earth.

  • ||

    It's crazymaking how somehow people think saying "nonpartisan" means "apolitical" or something. So, no political speech, which should be allowed, unless it's nonpartisan, which we'll tell ourselves is apolitical but totally isn't, because we're so far up the asses of the two-party system we don't even know what words mean anymore.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Agreed - political speech by its very definition cannot be "nonpartisan".

    Facts can be - but political speech is never about just facts - it's about what those facts mean and what can be done to "fix" whatever those facts theoretically demonstrate is incorrect.

    The entire idea of speech on a political subject being apolitical starts with the idiotic and infuriating myth that any discussion on political topics can be nonpartisan.

    Sorry ladies, but in a country where you're allowed to participate in your political system is also a country in which political discussions will be... well, political.

    & while we're here - I might as well just come out and say it - the Earth is NOT flat.

    Like everything else out of this administration, it's almost a perfect analogy to animal farm...

    Some speech is better than others.

  • Almanian!||

    There's no sugarcoating it - some people aren't entirely pleased with the IRS.

  • ||

    OT, but am I supposed to hate the guy in the photo above as much as I do? God, I want to stomp him in his stupid face with an old-school golf shoe.

  • Hopfiend||

    There are two basic responses that are appropriate.

    1. Your original proposal.

    2. Or, laughing til you crap yourself.

    either works. He is, an entirely ridiculous personage, only rivaled by this guy: http://weaselzippers.us/2013/0.....dem-donor/

  • Hopfiend||

    Sheeeesh, that picture represents a obsequious, slobbering, fellating groupy-ism that is unseemly in a grown person.

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