Free Speech and the IRS

Just in case there was any doubt about the relationship between the tax status of an organization and its ability to speak freely, John Podhoretz of COMMENTARY Magazine clears things up while addressing the news today that the IRS has apologized for unfairly flagging groups that had the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” for additional reviews:

As it happens, I know something about the chilling effect of an IRS investigation into a non-profit’s 501 (c)-3 status because in 2009, COMMENTARY (a non-profit) received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service threatening the revocation of the institution’s standing as a non-profit due to a claim that on our website we had crossed the line in the 2008 election from analysis to explicit advocacy of the candidacy of John McCain for president. (Non-profits are not permitted to endorse candidates.) The charge was false—all we had done was reprint a speech delivered at a COMMENTARY event by then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman in which he had endorsed McCain.

Taking away a non-profit’s ability to receive tax-exempt charitable contributions is equivalent to a death sentence.

We were told by counsel that, should the IRS rule against us, we would have almost no recourse. You might think free speech rights would trump any such effort, but of course no one is challenging your speech rights, merely finding that what you say runs afoul of laws dealing with non-profits. You have no constitutional right to non-profit status, after all.

While it’s commendable the IRS has addressed and presumably corrected the problem in Ohio, this story should serve as a reminder that local governmental offices may be the organizations in need of some oversight, rather than the non-profit groups with an ideological bent that are already regulated and, apparently, being watched nearly to the point of harassment.




The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.