The Internal Revenue Service, one of the most beleaguered federal agencies, is seeking to assume a new role in regulating election financing. And the reaction, perhaps predictably, has been critical. Many of the nearly 67,000 comments following the IRS’ proposal to rein in politically active nonprofits urge the organization to focus on its day job: tax collection. “It sounds to me like the IRS is making law, not enforcing it. Leave rule-making to the buffoons in Congress,” one comment reads. Another puts it more bluntly: “Stick to taxes.” The public opposition comes from both liberals and conservatives, who are blasting draft regulations released by the Treasury Department in November that would tighten restrictions on political spending by nonprofit “social welfare’’ organizations, formally called 501(c)(4) groups under a section in the tax code.
The backlash highlights the difficulty the federal government has encountered in attempting to respond to the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling in 2010, which said corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.
The IRS is trying to control the explosion of political activity by nonprofit organizations triggered by the ruling, including attack advertising funded by anonymous contributors. But now advocates on all sides of the political spectrum say the response by the IRS may have gone too far.