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Even the Left Hates the IRS's New Proposed Rules, But Nets Won't Report

Even leftist groups like the ACLU and Sierra Club are worried about being crushed by the IRS, but the Big Three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) aren’t telling their viewers about it. The comment period for new IRS rules, that would regulate political speech of groups on the left and right, ends on Thursday and it turns out the left is now fearing they will join the Tea Party in being targeted out of existence by the IRS.

On Tuesday, in an opinion piece headlined Liberals vs. the IRS, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) observed that: “The 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 editorial writers then pondered: “Maybe our colleagues will snap out of their slumber now that the objections are coming from liberals.” The resounding answer to that question from ABC, CBS and NBC, is NO.

The fact that the Big Three have failed to report on the most recent complaints is not surprising since they’ve pretty much have been AWOL on the IRS-Tea Party scandal. The last time NBC or CBS referenced the IRS imbroglio, on their evening or morning shows, was 24 days ago on February 3. It took FNC’s Bill O’Reilly bringing up the IRS issue to Barack Obama, in his Super Bowl interview, to get NBC and CBS to notice. But even that high profile event wasn’t enough to get ABC to remind viewers about the ongoing IRS scandal investigation. It’s been 92 days since ABC last mentioned it on the November 27, 2013 edition of Good Morning America.

And it’s not like there hasn’t been news to report. On Tuesday, House Republicans announced they wanted to recall former IRS official Lois Lerner to testify. And back on February 5 the House and Ways and Means committee released emails proving that Lerner helped craft the new IRS rules that even the leftist groups like ACLU are now protesting.

In their February 25 editorial the WSJ reported that complaints about those proposed rules are flooding into the IRS:  

The comment period for the new IRS political-speech rule is open until Feb. 27, but already there have been more than 69,000 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.

Consider some highlights. In a 26-page comment that can fairly be called blistering, the American Civil Liberties Union says the rule “will produce the same structural issues at the IRS that led to the use of inappropriate criteria in the selection of various charitable and social welfare groups for undue scrutiny.” Read: Same as targeting the tea party.

Social-welfare outfits should be able to criticize candidates freely, the ACLU writes, because that kind of advocacy is “at the heart of our representative democracy. To the extent it influences voting, it does so by promoting an informed citizenry.”

Cathy Duvall, director of strategic partnerships at the Sierra Club, that scold of fossil fuels, has said the new rule “harms efforts that have nothing to do with politics, from our ability to communicate with our members about clean air and water to our efforts to educate the public about toxic pollution.”

Later on in the piece the WSJ detailed the impact of the proposed rules:

Under the draft rule, the IRS would recategorize a broad swath of nonprofit actions as political, including any public communication that identifies a candidate within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election. The rule would also count any communication, public or private, as political if it expresses “a view on, whether for or against, the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of one or more clearly identified candidates or of candidates of a political party.”

This redefinition is important because 501(c)(4)s have traditionally been limited to spending somewhere around 49% or less of their activity on politics to keep their tax exemption. The new rule would instantly redefine so much behavior as politics that hundreds of groups would suddenly have to change what they do or stop promoting their issues.

Finally, the WSJ editorial offered this  ominous warning:

By restricting the ability of 501(c)(4)s to engage in politics, the Administration hopes more groups will have to register as political committees instead of social-welfare groups and thus disclose their donors. The purpose of this disclosure is to set up donors as political targets for boycotts and intimidation so the costs of participating in politics will be too steep.

— Geoffrey Dickens is Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.