In what appears to be a conservative poison pill, Congress may have locked out the IRS from doing anything at all on political nonprofit groups.
What The Hell Did Congress Just Do To The IRS?
Credit: karoli
January 22, 2014

Thanks to the tea party, the IRS could be locked down from taking any action on political nonprofit groups.

Mother Jones reports on language inserted into the appropriations bill saying that the IRS "cannot be used to 'target citizens of the United States for exercising any right guaranteed under the first Amendment" or to target 'groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs.'"

Taken at face value, it clearly reflects billionaires' fondest dreams -- to let their tax-exempt network buy and sell politicians and policy to the highest bidder. But it's a little more complicated than that.

Take, for example, the term "target". Mother Jones contacted tax experts who were puzzled by the term, which is not a term of art and is quite ambiguous. The term "targeting" might play in news reports, but it's not quite so clear in statutory terms.

Except the mild critique is poorly written. All of the tax experts reached by Mother Jones were mystified by the use of the word "target," an unusual term to be applied to the IRS. "I'm not even sure what targeting means,” says Owens. “Each taxpayer has its own set of circumstances—simply because they're not all cookie cutter—and the IRS has to analyze the tax law as it applies to particular facts and circumstances. It can't literally treat everybody the same. It has to make distinctions."

Commentators seem to think this means there won't be any action whatsoever on political nonprofits, but I have a different spin. The language is applicable to appropriations, which means the IRS can't use any of its budget to 'target' (whatever that means) political groups. However, they still have to approve their applications for nonprofit status. They still have a duty to make sure those groups are in compliance with current laws and regulations.

If they can't interpret the group's activities inside of that review, then approval will be a simple process of defaulting to existing law, which says 501(c)(4) groups can't spend more than 50 percent on political campaign activity. I believe none of the Kochtopus organizations would qualify for exemption on that bright-line test, nor would they withstand scrutiny under audit.

If the IRS is precluded from evaluating the facts and circumstances of a case, they could simply fall back on existing law and apply it to any funds spent during campaign season. In that case, conservatives should have been more careful about what they wished for.

This is stupid language put in a sloppy and hastily-assembled law, but it will have repercussions.

But Journy worries these new provisions could have their largest impact outside the courtroom. "The way this will be used most effectively is to bully the IRS into closing an examination on more favorable terms," he says. Petitioners to the IRS—an agency still stinging from PR damage of last year's drummed up scandal—will be able to cite these new provisions to claim that they have been unjustly targeted for their beliefs if the IRS delays approving their application.

When you elect idiots to Congress and those idiots hold a majority in the House, you get weird, ideological, idiotic language like this which is impossible to enforce and leaves the door wide open for more lawyers to make more money challenging the IRS on every petty slight they feel.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.