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Statement of Democracy Associate Emma Boorboor on U.S. PIRG’s comments to the IRS on its proposal on nonprofits’ candidate-related political activities
“In the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the rules governing nonprofits' participation in political campaigns are more important than ever. With the door opened for nonprofits to spend directly on elections, we have seen political operatives organize new nonprofits to take advantage of the tax code and flood recent elections with a wave of dark money whose source is impossible to track. The IRS’s current ‘facts and circumstances’ test, which it uses to sort legitimate nonprofits from electoral front groups, has not been sufficient to meet this challenge and prevent taxpayers from subsidizing partisan political activities. We applaud the IRS’s decision to address this problem head-on.
“Unfortunately, the initial proposal made by IRS misses the mark, and could cause real harm to the work of legitimate nonprofit organizations. The inclusion of all voter registration and voter engagement work, even when done in a completely non-partisan fashion, as candidate-related political activity is particularly concerning. Work by nonprofits to increase civic engagement and voter participation is crucial to creating an informed, active electorate.
“Further, the proposal would count as candidate-related political activity any grant to another tax-exempt organization that does such work, regardless of whether the grant is explicitly restricted to nonpolitical activity. This illogical rule would make it harder for organizations working in the public interest to collaborate and support each other.
“Finally, because any mention of a lawmaker running for office close to an election – including primaries – would be considered “political,” the proposal could tie the hands of groups looking to perform policy advocacy around key decisions that happen to occur during primary season.
“If these elements of the proposal stand, legitimate nonprofits would find it harder to carry out their missions to serve the public, and our democracy would be the loser. We hope our comments to the IRS will encourage it to continue its important work to prevent abuse of the tax-exempt system by political operatives, while making improvements in the next round of drafting to encourage appropriate public engagement by nonprofits.”
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