Americans have a fundamental First Amendment right to espouse and advocate their political views.
But do they have a right to expect others to subsidize those views?
We don’t think so. And that’s why we generally support a newly announced IRS initiative to restrict the activities of so-called nonprofit organizations that engage in political discourse.
These groups, liberal, conservative and otherwise, are theoretically intended to exist for the purpose of advocating ideas, rather than political parties or candidates. But there have been considerable complaints across the ideological spectrum that these groups don’t always adhere to ideal standards.
And we are not sure if that’s possible. At what point does advancing a given idea cross into partisan politics when that idea is so obviously linked to one particular party?
In part, that’s why these groups — known as 501(c)(4) entities in IRS parlance — have become so popular. They allow individuals to make tax-exempt donations to causes that are obviously partisan in nature. And they can do so anonymously.
America offers ample opportunities for individuals and organizations to support their desired political causes. We’re all for that, as part of the marketplace of ideas that strengthens a free society.
Yet we have to draw the line on a system that creates dubious tax-exempt opportunities. It’s one thing for people to contribute to preferred political endeavors. It’s another thing entirely to expect other citizens to essentially foot part of the bill by carving out tax breaks.
New rules proposed by the IRS would severely limit political activities designed to promote particular politicians or encourage candidates running for office to act in given ways. There would also be restrictions on voter drives by these groups that typically seek to serve one party.
These proposals will be publicly reviewed and debated in the coming months. We’re sure that nonprofit organizations involved in political activities now will resist. And we can look forward to condemnations of the IRS, particularly in light of the mess the agency created with its handling of conservative groups prior to the 2012 election.
But perhaps the nation as a whole will take this opportunity to review the entire concept of political nonprofit activity. The notion of allowing tax-exempt organizations is intended to serve the public good in a variety of ways. And while advocating public policy ideas may fall into that category, we find ourselves wondering if non-profit status for these groups is necessary.
We suspect they would continue to operate in some fashion without such protection. And as a result, maybe the nation’s public discourse would be a little clearer and a little less hypocritical.
New Castle, Pa., News