IRS intimidation? House GOP turns the tables as tax agency considers limits on outside political spending

A logo for the Internal Revenue Service, displaying an eagle holding scales.
Photo credit: IRS

(Updated: 12:44 p.m., 2/25/14)

While Sunlight’s Docket Wrench shows nearly 70,000 comments so far on a controversial proposed IRS plan to clamp down on political spending nonprofit groups, House Republicans this week appear to be taking a different avenue to make their opinions known.

Ahead of a Thursday deadline for filing comments on the IRS proposed regulations, no fewer than five bills and at least three hearings targeting the tax agency are scheduled in the Republican-controlled House.

Candidates in both parties have benefited from the creation of political nonprofits designed to aid and abet them — President Barack Obama’s is meeting in Washington this week. But in the 2012 campaign, Republicans got the lion’s share of what dark money we know about. This week, members of the House Republican leadership appear to be sending a not-so-subtle message to the IRS.

Among the five bills scheduled for House floor this week, including one that would explicitly prohibit any of the proposed new regulations on which the IRS is now soliciting the public’s views.

In addition, at least three House committees have scheduled hearings on the IRS with a focus on what critics say is the tax agency’s attempt to “regulate political speech.” Most pointed, in terms of message-sending, will be the one scheduled for Tuesday before the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services. That would be the same subcommittee the writes the IRS budget. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, along with J. Russell George, the IRS inspector general who accused the agency of improperly targeting Tea Party groups, have been summoned to testify. Later in the week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will follow up with two more hearings, one on Wednesday and one on Thursday.

The nonprofits and their supporters are making their feelings known as well. As National Review has reported, groups on both the left and right have protested the IRS proposed rules, but conservative groups appear to have been the most active in organizing comment bombs. Docket Wrench has detected similar language in well more than two-thirds of the comments filed so far.

Politically active nonprofits do not have to report much of their spending to the Federal Election Commission, but Sunlight’s political ad tracker does pick some of it up. Political Ad Sleuth shows a number of groups already active in competitive congressional races, including the pro-Republican Americans for Prosperity and the pro-Democratic Patriot Majority.

The Sunlight Foundation supports further regulation of political spending by nonprofit groups and will be filing comments with the IRS later this week.