New report finds broad opposition to IRS regulations on political speech

Alexandria, Va. — 87 percent of concerned individuals sampled and 97 percent of organizations, nonprofit experts, and public officials oppose to varying degrees IRS regulations limiting the speech rights of societally important social welfare organizations, according to a new report from the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP).

“It is truly remarkable how widespread opposition to this proposal is,” said CCP President, David Keating. “People don’t want the IRS to act as the speech police. Opposition to these IRS regulations may be the only issue that can unite left and right as well as trade groups and trade unions.”

The proposed regulations, which would govern the permissible activities of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, like the ACLU, American Motorcyclist Association, NAACP, and the NRA, were announced late last November. A legally mandated 90-day public comment period followed. The proposal received a record-setting number of comments, and these submissions were analyzed in the report.

The IRS proposal creates an expansive definition of “candidate-related political activity” that would encompass activities like grassroots lobbying, voter registration drives, and the production of nonpartisan voter guides, and would have undoubtedly stifled the free speech rights of thousands of time-honored social welfare organizations across the political spectrum. As a result, the proposed restrictions drew the ire of commenters.

The CCP report found that, “a record-breaking number of concerned citizens, organizations, nonprofit tax lawyers, and public officials voiced their opinions on the proposed rulemaking, the vast majority of which were overwhelmingly critical.”

To produce these findings, the report examined a random, statistically significant sample of the almost 144,000 comments. It analyzed all public comments sampled to determine if they opposed, partially supported and opposed, supported, or remained neutral on the IRS’s rulemaking. In total, CCP found that 87 percent of public comments sampled opposed the proposal, 7 percent expressed partial support and opposition, and only 5 percent supported the new regulations, with 1 percent expressing no opinion.

CCP also analyzed every comment submitted by an organization, nonprofit expert, or public official, and similarly found that 97 percent of these commenters opposed the rulemaking in its current form, with 64 percent of commenters opposing it outright. Only 3 percent of commenters voiced support for the rulemaking.

The IRS announced in May that it was withdrawing this rulemaking and revising it for re-introduction in early 2015. “In light of this overwhelming opposition,” said Keating, “the IRS would be best served by scrapping these onerous regulations and getting out of the speech regulation business entirely, in order to safeguard the First Amendment rights of all Americans.”

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