The Obama administration and New York’s senior senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer, are conspiring to muzzle their political opponents before fall’s midterm elections, and to literally outlaw free speech. They are rushing through a change in IRS regulations that would prevent tea party organizations and other not-for-profits, called 501(c)(4)s, from engaging in customary pre-election activities, such as get-out-the-vote drives, debates and forums, and distributing brochures that rate candidates. The regulation would even prohibit these groups from criticizing incumbent officeholders within 60 days of a general election.
This regulation would destroy fair elections. It would silence 501(c)(4)s, many of which support Republican causes, while imposing no restraints on labor unions, the shadow army of the Democratic Party, which are exempt. They will be free to use phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, and advertising for their candidates, while tea party groups will be gagged. It’s like letting one football team suit up for the game while barring the rival team from wearing shoes or helmets.
Schumer laid out the plan in a speech on Jan. 23. He bashed tea partiers as “a small but extreme part of America,” called their commitment to smaller government “quack medicine,” and said their “undue power” and “stranglehold over our politics and policies” must be broken.
He said, “It is clear we will not pass anything legislatively as long as the House of Representatives is in Republican control, but there are many things that can be done administratively by the IRS … ”
The proposed IRS regulation Schumer is advocating would trample the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech and assembly. Moreover, it far exceeds how federal law allows the IRS to constrain the political activities of nonprofits. In short, it is a lawless attack on political speech.
Schumer’s intolerance toward his political rivals makes you wonder whether he belongs in the Senate at all, much less chairing the committee overseeing voting rights and election law.
God, help us.
Schumer shows no shame over siccing the IRS on his political rivals. The Obama administration, on the other hand, claims on the pages of the Federal Register that the proposed regulation is needed because of the “lack of a clear and concise” set of rules about what nonprofits can do. That’s a lie.
The IRS has used the same rules to grant tax-exempt status since 1959, and applications were processed without confusion until 2010. That, apparently, was when Lois Lerner, director of the tax-exempt division at the IRS, began singling out groups bearing in their names the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” for scrutiny and harassment. The proposed regulation would codify the abusive tactics she tried to hide by pleading the Fifth before Congress last spring.
The IRS scandal is not over. It’s just beginning. Congressmen Darrell Issa called the proposed regulation “a veiled attempt to stifle the exercise of constitutionally protected speech.” Numerous Republican lawmakers asked the newly appointed IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to withdraw the regulation, but he was noncommittal, saying he can only do what is in his control.
That is the problem. This is not an IRS scandal. Obama and Democratic Party chieftain Schumer are willing to sacrifice the fairness of our two-party system — the jewel in America’s crown — to push through their agendas. How else to explain the failure of the FBI, tasked with investigating IRS abuses, to ever interview even one alleged victim? Yet Obama shrugs that there wasn’t a “smidgen of corruption.”
Not a smidgen? An overflowing cauldron. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., vowed last week that the committee “will fight any and all efforts to restrict the rights of groups to organize, speak out and educate the public, just as unions are allowed to do so.”
Sounds good. But what can one house of Congress do? The president has vast regulatory machinery to make a sham of the 2014 elections and all this nation stands for.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and the author of “Beating Obamacare.”