December 6, 2013

The Post missed the mark in its Dec. 2 editorial “For the common good,” on the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) proposed guidelines regarding the candidate-related political activity of tax-exempt social welfare organizations. The Post urged the IRS to be cautious in setting boundaries on the “proportion of a social welfare group’s activity that can be devoted to politics” and argued that “social welfare groups ought to be allowed some voice in political affairs.”

Social welfare groups can engage in unlimited issue advocacy, which provides them ample opportunity to engage in policy-making. This will not change. Candidate-related political activities, however, are a different matter. The IRS asks the question, “How much campaign-related money should we allow social welfare groups to spend in our elections while hiding their donors?” The right answer is none.

In fact, the IRS already applies that standard for similar groups. Charities are prohibited from engaging in any campaign activities. The simplest solution would be for the IRS to apply that same model to social welfare organizations. This would increase transparency in our political system, ensure that the IRS is using clear standards to evaluate social welfare groups and prevent these groups from straying from their social welfare mission.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, Washington

The writer, a Democrat, represents New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District in the House. She is the lead sponsor of the 501(c)(4) Reform Act.

The Post’s Dec. 2 editorial “For the common good” was spot-on in its conclusion that the IRS’s revised rules “should be framed to ensure that these groups remain devoted to what they were intended to be, social welfare organizations, and not just surrogates for contributors who don’t want to be named.” The editorial also accurately labeled as a “delicate area” the delineation of how much activity can be devoted to politics. This is a sensitive, First Amendment area.

The government instead should focus on ensuring actual transparency. This would keep faith with the Supreme Court’s admonition in its Citizens United decision that prompt disclosures of expenditures can provide “transparency [that] enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Henry Geller, Washington