In a surprise announcement, the IRS has opened the door to re-writing outdated rules regarding political activity of so-called social welfare organizations. The move is long overdue. Over a year ago, Sunlight urged the agency to take a look at rules that have not been updated since 1959. We also told Congress that after it held hearings on the IRS’s targeting of groups with conservative sounding names, it should provide guidance for the agency as to how it could more effectively, efficiently and fairly enforce the law. Even though that congressional leadership never materialized, the IRS should be congratulated for taking the first steps toward reforming its broken rules.
The IRS doesn’t have an easy road ahead of it. In the best case scenario, rules won’t be finalized until after the 2014 elections, ensuring that fake social welfare organizations—organizations like Crossroads GPS on the right and Patriot Majority USA on the left—will continue spending the vast majority of their money on election-related activity, not "social welfare." The IRS will face obstruction from congressional Republicans (in the form of legislation attempting to ban the IRS from enacting new rules, threats to its budget, or still more hearings) as well as court challenges that will further threaten the adoption of clear regulations.