The mainstream media have remained quiet about the IRS targeting of conservative nonprofit groups and even quieter about the proposed IRS rule to restrict their political speech. The IRS claims that the proposed regulations are intended to “provide guidance under section 501(c)(4) relating to the measurement of an organization’s primarily activity and whether it is operated primarily for the promotion of social welfare, including guidance relating to political campaign intervention.”
The comment period for the new IRS political-speech rule ended on Feb. 27, and received more than 140,000 comments, the majority negative. That’s far more than the normal reaction to a new regulation—only 7,353 comments on the Keystone XL pipeline, according to Regulations.gov—and it shows how much anger and concern the rule has generated across the political spectrum.
Election Integrity NJ submitted comments via the Regulations.gov website and via email to IRS Attorney-Avisor Ms. Amy F. Giuliano. Below is the email Election Integrity NJ submitted to Ms. Amy F. Giuliano.
February 26, 2014
Dear Ms. Amy F. Giuliano:
I am the President of Election Integrity NJ, and I would like to comment on how the proposed regulations would impact on our organization.
Election Integrity NJ is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, social welfare organization dedicated to upholding free and fair elections. If our elections are not truly fair, we are not truly free. That’s why our goal is to eliminate election fraud and restore integrity, accuracy, and fairness to our country’s elections.
Our government was built upon the belief that election results represent the true will of the people and our election processes were always intended to be supported by citizen volunteers. Election Integrity NJ relies on citizen volunteers to carry out these goals. The proposed regulations would require our organization to calculate volunteer hours, and these calculations would then be counted against our organization’s primary purpose. Even if it were feasible to calculate volunteer hours, which it is not, the proposed regulations would hinder our ability to carry out the primary purpose of our organization.
With respect to election-related activities, the proposed regulations would consider many of our current activities as political campaign intervention. The Treasury Department and the IRS acknowledge that under the facts and circumstances analysis currently used for section 501(c)(4) organizations as well as for section 501(c)(3) organizations, these election-related activities may not be considered political campaign intervention if conducted in a non-partisan and unbiased manner.
Specifically, the proposed regulations state that “[t]he proposed definition of candidate-related political activity would include certain specified election-related activities, including the conduct of voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, distribution of material prepared by or on behalf of a candidate or section 527 organization, and preparation or distribution of a voter guide and accompanying material that refers to a candidate or a political party. In addition, an organization that hosts an event on its premises or conducts an event off-site within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election at which one or more candidates in such election appear as part of the program (whether or not such appearance was previously scheduled) would be engaged in candidate-related political activity under the proposed definition.”
While we have not yet conducted voter registration drives, this is something that our organization plans to do in the future.
On October 5, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the importance of elections and voting.
We agree with President Roosevelt and it is for this reason that we have spoken to the New Jersey Division of Elections regarding our plan to conduct voter registration drives in a non-partisan and unbiased manner. The proposed regulations would automatically consider voter registration drives as political campaign intervention.
Election Integrity NJ conducts poll watcher training to registered voters in New Jersey. We generally conduct our poll watcher training within 60 days of an election. As we are a nonpartisan organization, we do not exclude anyone from attending our poll watcher training. It is very typical for candidates to partake in our training. This proposed rule would place restrictions on how we conduct our poll worker training.
Election Integrity NJ also promotes “Smart Voting Policy” by supporting legislative measures that protect the right of every eligible voter in the State of New Jersey to cast a vote in free and fair elections. Specifically, we are working on making photo ID a requirement to vote in New Jersey. We are making this a campaign issue and asking candidates whether they support photo ID as a requirement to vote. Publishing voter guides that inform citizens of where politicians stand on this issue, and other “Smart Voting Policies” falls within the guidelines of a social welfare organization. We should expect social welfare organizations to keep citizens informed. The proposed regulations would prohibit us from keeping citizens informed, something that we believe is the obligation of every social welfare organization.
Election Integrity NJ supports the alternative proposed by the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP). According to the CCP, “clarification via rulemaking must comport with [the landmark Buckley v. Valeo ruling], a unanimous Supreme Court decision that provides an elegant solution to the complex problem of regulating political speech and association.”
The CCP proposed rule would adopt the Buckley case’s definition of political activity, which includes only direct support for candidates and political parties and express advocacy for candidates — e.g., “Vote for Jones” — as “political activity” subject to limits. CCP’s proposal also adopts “the major purpose” test from the Buckley decision for analyzing “primary purpose” under the tax laws to determine whether a group would be a Section 501(c)(4) social welfare group or not.
We agree with CCP that it’s time the IRS issue simple, clear rules that comport with Supreme Court precedent and treat all non-profit groups fairly.
Furthermore, we are appalled that the IRS is seeking to make new regulations by bypassing Congress. The IRS should not be regulating political speech at all; the IRS is a tax collecting agency, not a campaign finance regulator. The IRS’s current rules are clear as mud. If an entity with a social welfare purpose is a PAC under Federal Election Commission rules, it ought to be regulated as a Section 527 organization. If it is not, it should be regulated as a Section 501(c)(4) social welfare group.
Election Integrity NJ hereby requests a public hearing and to be permitted to testify at said hearing.
Deanna Marie De’Liberto
President, Election Integrity NJ, Inc.
About Election Integrity NJ
Election Integrity NJ is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization dedicated to upholding free and fair elections. Election Integrity NJ exists to promote integrity throughout the voting process in New Jersey, thereby enhancing the public’s confidence in its voting franchise in local, state and federal elections. Election Integrity NJ seeks to support the efforts of New Jersey’s various Boards of Elections in their effort to maintain voter integrity, as well as the interests of New Jersey voters. For more information about Election Integrity NJ, please visit: www.ElectionIntegrityNJ.org.