The Washington Post

An amazing number of people care about a single IRS rule change


That's how many comments – some of them dozens of pages long – have been submitted  to the Internal Revenue Service from advocacy groups, trade associations, First Amendment attorneys, unions, think tanks, members of Congress and average Americans in response to a proposed Obama Administration regulation that would dramatically change how nonprofits engage in political activity. (Yes, for those of you following along, that means that more than 21,000 came in after our last update Thursday evening and before the 11:59 p.m deadline.)

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The IRS, which plans to go through each one of the comments, is not in for a lot of positive feedback. According to an analysis by the conservative Center for Competitive Politics, which analyzed every 100th comment, 94.37% of the feedback is partially or fully against the proposal. “The quantity is impressive,” said David Keating, the center’s president. “But the quality of comments and the diversity of political views that all agree the proposed regulations are misguided is incredible.”

The suggested rules, which attempt to lay out clear boundaries for when a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization veers into political activity, have been lambasted by groups as varied as the ACLU and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a 36-page comment filed Thursday, a coalition of the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU and some of the other biggest unions in the country wrote that they “have grave concerns” about what the regulation would mean for labor unions, which are set up under a different section of the tax code. Even campaign finance advocates, who have applauded the IRS for seeking to regulate nonprofits, have suggested fixes.

What’s next? At least one public hearing on the proposal. And lots and lots of reading.

Matea Gold is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, covering money and influence.

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