GOPs Try to Block IRS Rule That Threatens to Shut Down Conservative 501(c)(4)s

In the House, the Ways and Means Committee passed the lower chamber's version of the bill today.

“These rules are a blatant attempt to legalize and institutionalize targeting by the IRS, and are designed to put conservative groups out of business. It is no wonder the IRS tried to develop this rule behind closed doors and out of the public’s view," said Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). "This legislation will put a hold on these proposed rules until Congress completes its investigation into the IRS’s abuses."

"We need to finish our investigation into the IRS’s abuses and receive the Inspector General’s final report," Camp added. "This legislation will ensure that Treasury does not rush to put this rule into effect, which it can do as soon as the end of this month, and can process the over 23,000 public comments already received.”

Camp discovered that the administration has been working on the rule since 2011, but is now framing it as a corrective measure to the IRS targeting scandal. The Treasury Department didn't mention the rule in its 2011 or 2012 priority guidance plans that should have listed rules in process.

Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) protested that the committee was wasting time on "a tireless effort by Republicans to find political scandal, regardless of what the truth holds, as they look toward the November election."

"More than 500,000 pages of IRS documents have been turned over to congressional committees. Five dozen interviews of current and former IRS employees have taken place. Lawmakers at 15 congressional hearings have questioned IRS officials. In all, more than 150 IRS employees have worked 70,000 hours—time taken away from taxpayer services—to accommodate the ongoing requests for information from congressional investigators," Levin said. "And yet, there’s been absolutely no evidence of any corruption unearthed. Not a single piece of evidence showing any political motivation. Nothing showing any involvement outside the IRS.”

In a letter last week to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, House and Senate Republican leaders called on the agency to drop the proposed rule, which is opposed by diverse groups ranging from the ACLU to the Chamber of Commerce.

They reminded the new IRS leader that now was the time to decide whether “to use the agency as a means to infringe on the constitutionally protected right to free speech.”

“One of the reasons you have been appointed to a five-year term is so that you will be protected from undue political pressure," they wrote. "So, we urge you to take a stand against this kind of intimidation, abandon this proposed rule, and make it clear to a nervous public that your agency will no longer engage in government-sanctioned crackdowns on speech.”

Flake said on the floor that the number of public comments received on the rule is the most ever received by a government agency.

"Clearly, the public sees through the administration’s veiled attempt to squash free speech and shut down opposition to its priorities," the Arizona senator said.

"It’s time to end the intimidation and harassment. Let’s preserve the First Amendment rights of all groups, regardless of their ideology, especially those that commit themselves to improving our society."