Campus and Social Welfare Groups Balk at Proposed IRS Regulations


When the IRS proposed new regulations for organizations applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status (organizations promoting social welfare), citizens and organizations sent in over 140 thousand comments on the website.

The proposed regulations come after allegations that members of the IRS singled out conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) status for special scrutiny and recent increases in political spending from 504(c)(4) organizations.

The regulations would redefine “candidate-related activity” to include communications advocating for specific candidates or a political party, grants to tax-exempt political or candidate-related action organizations, voter registration drives, get-out-the-vote drives, and preparation and distribution of voter guides among other things.

Comments coming from liberals, conservatives, and those with no clear political leanings were mostly in opposition to the regulations. Some expressed concern that the regulations would hinder their right to freedom of speech. Others saw the regulations as a method for the Obama administration to injure their political opponents.

In February, tax experts said such strong opposition could cause the Treasury Department to revise or cancel the regulations all together, according to The Washington Post.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio said that the regulations prevented social welfare groups from promoting civic engagement through election-related activity.

The league president Nancy Brown commented, “Our Leagues throughout Ohio conduct nonpartisan forums, publish unbiased voter guides, register voters of all political persuasions, and work actively in communities across the state to encourage all citizens to vote.”

Many members of the Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) submitted comments arguing that the regulations would violate first amendment rights.

The proposed ban on candidate or party-related communications leading up to primary and general elections lead member Cheryl Fotia, to say that it would “prohibit a grassroots organization from airing an ad or passing out a Congressional Scorecard,” abridging her right to inform the public about hotly contested political issues.

This type of spending is what political watchdogs would call “dark money” which is money given to non-profits from unknown donors and then spent to support or oppose political candidates and parties, allowing donors to secretly influence politics.

“By taking on tax exempt status, I think you are removing yourself from the political game.  So groups such as churches, or charities should not advocate political groups. Their main focus is on presumably charity, religion, research, etc.  Their product is wholly different from profit driven corporations, since their end goal is not monetary profit, but profit of the cause,” said Caleb Brown, a USM senior majoring in international relations.

Brown said social welfare groups should be allowed to support policies, but that when those groups get involved in voting campaigns, the activities can get too closely related to political campaigns.