The Internal Revenue Service has canceled its month-old rule that would have stopped hundreds of tax-exempt organizations from publicizing the views of public officials and candidates.
The cancellation, announced yesterday in a quick turn of the bureaucratic wheel, came partially as a result of complaints from groups that would have been targets of the May 1 ruling.
The cancellation means that the IRS once again will review political-related activities of tax-exempt non-profit educational, religious and charitable groups.
"There was a feeling that we needed to clafiry the ruling," an IRS spokesman said. "We felt in light of the reaction, we needed to be more specific."
The agency said that when questions arise it will deal individually with cases to determine if prohibited participation or intervention in campaigns has occurred.
The new ruling was greeted with a collective sigh of relief from the League of Woman Voters, whose voter-education work would have been curtailed sharply by the May 1 rule.
The league's tax-exempt education fund provides money for state and local sampling of the views of candidates for public office on a variety of issues.
Peggy Lampl, executive director of the 135,000-member league, said the organization was pleased with the change of heart at IRS, and praised the agency for "the dispatch with which it acted . . . rather remarkable in this day and age."
Albert E. Arent, Washington attorney for the league, who last month had asked IRS to postpone the effective date of the May 1 rule, reacted similarly.
"I am just delighted they were able to focus so quickly on the crucial First Amendment questions that were raised," he said. "They should be complimented for acting so promptly."
Equally pleased was Rep. Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.) who, only hours before IRS announced its change, had called for a House Ways and Means Committee investigation of the agency's May 1 rule.
Officials of the National Council of Churches, the U.S. Catholic Conference and the American Bar Association also had raised questions about the broadness of the earlier IRS ruling.
Some Washington tax attorneys also had expressed concern that the IRS rule would have been applied to tax-exempt noncommercial public television and radio outlets that aired the view of political figures.
Under federal law, the tax-exempt groups are barred from participating in or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.
The IRS rule in question, announced on May 1, held that the law meant that polling of candidates on issues and publication of their views, even with no editiorial comment. was prohibited.
In its new stance, IRS said that it will judge each case on the basic "of the facts and circumstances." It said certain voter-education activities carried out in a nonpartisan way may not be prohibited.
IRS gave two examples of voter-education work that would be acceptable: publication, without editorial opinion, of the voting records of members of Congress; and publication of a voters' guide to candidates' views on a variety of issues.
Two examples of prohibited activity cited by IRS were publication of candidate responses to questions that showed a bias on certain issues and publication of voting records on a single issue, even without editorial comment.
Those four hypothetical cases were provided yesterday by IRS as examples of situations that could arise. But it said it would evaluate actual cases individually. IRS also said that enforcement of any prohibitions will not occur until after Jan. 1.