Senators Cosponsor “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act” to Protect Free Speech

U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today cosponsored new legislation to ensure the Internal Revenue Service and Obama administration do not act to limit free speech rights of groups based on their political leanings.

Cochran and Wicker are original cosponsors of the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2015 that was introduced Wednesday by Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). The legislation, which is similar to a bill cosponsored by the Mississippi Senators last year, was drafted in response to regulatory efforts following a scandal in which the IRS targeted conservative-leaning 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups.

“The problems exposed by the targeting scheme are being compounded by the regulations proposed to correct the problems. The new rules are so broad that they represent even tighter restrictions on the free speech rights of nonprofit social welfare groups,” Cochran said. “I hope this measure will effectively put the brakes on these regulations.”

“Americans are guaranteed the right to free speech under the Constitution, and federal agencies such as the IRS have an obligation to be fair and impartial in their treatment of the people they serve. This legislation would allow all groups, particularly conservative nonprofits, to practice their First Amendment rights without fear of retaliation from the government,” Wicker said.

The new legislation is intended to stop the IRS from issuing regulations that would restrict the activities of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. It would suspend any IRS rulemaking related to 501(c)(4)s until February 2017, and keep in place IRS standards and definitions that were in place on Jan. 1, 2010–prior to the inappropriate targeting of conservative groups.

The suspension of new IRS rulemaking would include the new candidate-related political activity definition that the Treasury Department unveiled in November 2013. It would also affect administration efforts to revise the political activity definition, which has engendered wide-ranging criticism for being too expansive in its restrictions and for exempting labor unions and trade associations.

Joint Press Release
1/28/15