On August 17, 2016, Tax Revolution Institute (TRI) Senior Advisor Jeff Lewis hosted a webinar featuring TRI Executive Director Dan Johnson and Kimberly Strassel, Wall Street Journal editorial board member and author of The Intimidation Game.
The discussion centered on issues dealing with TRI’s ongoing independent audit of the IRS as well as the institute’s efforts to protect the free-speech rights of nonprofits through their First Amendment Alliance. The following is a partial transcript of their conversation beginning at the 1 hour and 14 minute mark of the video below:
Dan Johnson: Before we get to the audit itself — kind of the reasons for the audit — if you step back to February/March, we went to the Hill with a couple of simple questions. And they were related to an IRS entity called the IRS Oversight Board. The IRS Oversight Board is an organization set up by the 1998 IRS Restructuring Act that was supposed to oversee the way the IRS treats taxpayers; the way the IRS handles funds; [and] the way the IRS operates.
And when you go to — and I think you can pull up their website on the webinar — when you go to the treasury.gov/irsob, you’ll notice an interesting sentence that appears on the Oversight Board’s website. The IRS Oversight Board does not currently have enough members confirmed by the US Senate to make up a quorum and, as a result, has suspended operations.
So, you think about how little it takes for the Senate to confirm an appointee to the IRS Oversight Board, and at least to hold a hearing. And considering that this was the crème de la crème; this was the pillar of the 1998 restructuring; this would prevent the IRS from ever abusing Americans again.
The fact that it doesn’t have a quorum should stun most Americans, and [it] took us back a little bit. So we went to Congress and asked around. And the general notion that we got from Congress was, “Well, the Board wasn’t doing anything anyway, so we didn’t bother to appoint anyone.” Which is… just to call it a “cop out” would be giving it a lot of credit.
If the Board isn’t doing what it needs to do — it’s not providing effective oversight over the IRS — then the response to that is to create a new organization that is more effective, perhaps structured like Miss Strassel was talking about with the FEC, with 4 members of each side of the aisle on this new IRS Oversight Board. But, the Senate and House members and their staffs that we’ve talked to generally considered it an interesting topic, but nothing more.
Jeff Lewis: I’m not going to disclose who it was we sat down with, but it was a prominent figure in the Senate that’s a party to the Joint Committee on Taxation, if you will, or someone that has connections to that committee. And what Kim was suggesting, and that you just alluded to, is exactly what we were hearing there: a possible fix they were considering. And this was off the record. That’s why I’m not going to say who said it.
But it’s obvious that the Senate [and] the Congress is aware that, as it was structured in 1988, it has proven to be mostly a dysfunctional organization. And yet, the letter of law is what it is. The president appoints and the Senate is supposed to confirm those appointees. So, for folks that want to dump all of this to even this oversight issue, or lack therefore, is the president’s thought, hold up.
Because, in January 2015, the president re-nominated an existing board member, which is permissible I think once, and then by April 15, 2015, had nominated another member, which would have given them — had the Senate held confirmation hearings and approved them… well, they already had an existing board member so unless that one had really screwed up somewhere, that was probably going to be a pencil width.
And because they needed to have a quorum, they should be functioning as maybe a properly functioning Oversight Board would have nipped this problem in the bud with the targeting scandal. But they didn’t, and Kim and I talked about that 100 hearings that were held. And all that was held during that window, that the IRS Oversight Board was suspended, couldn’t do anything. The only allegedly independent oversight, which even that’s an oxymoron, because they’re two of the permanent members are.
But the whole purpose of this thing was to improve it, so it would better serve the public and meet the needs of the taxpayers. But nothing that came out of that targeting scandal better served the public, and certainly didn’t meet the needs of the taxpayers. And the Senate has done nothing, and Congress has done nothing to fix this either. We brought that to their attention as well. And I know that the Tax Revolution Institute is going to have some ideas on how to fix that too, though we need to have the (inaudible) to do it.
DJ: The reason that I bring it up is it served as a red flag for what we were to find in the ensuing months, when we started looking into who was watching the hen house, right?
DJ: And that red flag, just that simple, the fact that the only, quote unquote, they call themselves Independent Oversight Organization over the IRS, was not even operating, really paved the way for our next few actions — which were, essentially, let’s start looking into how the IRS treats the American taxpayer.
And one of the classic ways to determine how a federal agency is operating is the Freedom of Information Act — a public records request, essentially a federal public records request. We started looking at how the IRS had been responding to Freedom of Information Act requests from other organizations, and we found a bit of a disturbing trend there.
In that a great example would be Judicial Watch. Judicial Watch, a government watchdog organization, [is] perhaps the best known government watchdog organization operating out of the belt way. Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the IRS, asking for election-related information. Essentially any emails between, I want to say, August to November 2012 that mentioned the name of one of the presidential candidates, or had the word election in it.
And when I sit in front of my Gmail, no matter if I have one message or 100,000 messages in it, the time it takes me to search through those emails and find the emails that contain that information is pretty small. And even considering that the Office of General Counsel at the IRS reviewed those emails first, and redact any personal tax payer information, it might be a couple of months at the latest that the IRS would be able to deliver on that information.
Yet the IRS did not respond to that FOIA request, so Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit. And in this lawsuit, the IRS responded that it would, could, quote, “implicate up to 30,000 employees and take up to 2 years to complete.” And Judicial Watch did, essentially, what any [or] what several organizations would do in that situation [and] went: “Okay, well I guess we’re not getting this.”
And that’s just one example. Muckrock.com actually has an article they put out every year called “The Tax Day Anger Read,” which is essentially what FIOA’s has the government requested that the IRS has denied and have been requested of the IRS and have been denied this year. And a few of MuckRock’s FIOA’s that are listed, here’s some of the things the IRS did not reply to with a list of documents or did not essentially answer the FIOA. So, they would reject the FIOA request.
The standards for granting non-profit status to media organizations; their training materials for identifying tax cheats; the form used by a private-prison corporation, Corrections Corp, to justify why they should be taxed as a real estate investment trust, or a hotel, rather than a prison. Memos about their clash with Scientology; FIOA requests sent by Scientology; anything at all related to the Silk Road and the take down of that website; anything related to Jeb Bush; anything related to whistleblower claims. And at the, since you have this on the webinar, if you scroll down all the way to the bottom, you’ll notice that there is —
DJ: Oh yeah.
JL: It was a blank spot there as was done with it.
DJ: So if you scroll down all the way to the bottom, you have a typical response, FIOA request response member. These organizations who are trying to keep an eye on this, on the IRS, who are trying to get information from this federal agency. These organizations are waiting three, six, nine months, a year, for a response from the IRS, before they file suit.
And if you scroll down all the way to the bottom, you will see a typical IRS FIOA quote release. Scroll up a little bit more. A little bit, little bit. Scroll up a little bit more. It’s just the document with (b)(3)26 USC 6103 in red. Bit more. Right there. Page 106, that is a transparent FIOA release right there. That is six pages. Just scroll down, just move your mouse over it and scroll and scroll. Move your mouse over the document and scroll down. That right there is a six-page response to a FIOA request from the IRS.
JL: Where they’ve not redacted these, they black out parts of it, that there are certain exemptions to the rule of this disclosure act. There’s some, having done one when I was in the Navy. That there were six reasons that they could deny or redact information. And even though there were none of those reasons in, that wouldn’t allow them to deny the request, or even as a redact any information in it. What I got back, it wasn’t this bad. But there was considerable parts of it redacted. And it was a document that shouldn’t have been.
So I know, and this was back in the late 80s. So I know, I’ve heard about this kind, they’re still doing it. And they don’t have to tell you which one of those exemptions necessarily they will apply to withhold information.
DJ: And the section noted there, Section 6103, there is a good purpose behind that section, and it is to protect privacy of taxpayer data that the IRS has. And so there is a need for the IRS to redact certain amounts of information that it hands over in a FIOA request. However, the IRS uses that section as a catch-all to allow them to redact anything and everything they really don’t feel like giving away.
JL: Their national security exemption is another wildcard they like using.
DJ: Absolutely, the National Security agencies. And I compare the level of secrecy at the IRS to the level of secrecy at the National Security agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence agency. And the question that your American taxpayer has to ask is, why? Why would America’s tax collector need to be as secret or more secret than agencies that deal with national security? It shouldn’t. There’s absolutely no reason.
I mean, Jeff, you remember when you and I went to the, you and I and a couple of other team members went to an IRS, quote unquote, “public”…
JL: Public hearing yeah.
DJ: I can’t do air quotes on an audio, so, quote unquote, “public” hearing. And there was more security measures to get through it, that hearing — than there is to get into Congress, or get into the White House. And we were, what?
JL: And that opinion was not Dan’s or mine. We had credential media with us that had mentioned the White House. And who said himself that it was easier to get into the White House for a press conference or whatever, or interview somebody than it was to get in IRS headquarters at 1111 Constitution Avenue. You needed an escort to go to the bathroom in that place.
And that’s just the beginning of it. I’d say that the time that they were chasing average taxpayer. Were they to attempt to attend that public hearing, everything, and that was their only encounter with the IRS, if they hadn’t been audited at some point in the past. Every horror story or stereotype that would make people afraid of the IRS would be personified in that one attempt to go to a public hearing. And then they’d never come back.
So yeah, the more we looked into all of this stuff, I think it, in one of the videos you’ve put together, that promotes educational materials, said that on tax day, an honest man who’s trying to do his taxes right shouldn’t be afraid when he files if he’s done nothing wrong. Or some variations on that theme. And the more we look into and engage the IRS at every level, or the people that are supposed to be monitoring them, like Congress.
It seemed that the people that audit us needed one themselves. An independent audit. And I know when we first floated this idea across CPAs and accountants, that some of them were real tiffed thinking that this was just going to be the typical type of audit that they would do on a corporation, a business. And I mean, they were going down all sorts of rabbit holes that are all mathematical. And this audit that the Tax Revolution Institute’s initiating, is not just that kind of an audit. It will look at the books, but it’s a lot more than that. You want to go over that some, Dan?
DJ: The areas of the audit more or less?
JL: Yeah, because this is not your traditional audit. I hear that you’ve already been engaging with the victims. Is one of the things that the audit initiative is doing is getting with taxpayers who feel that they have a good, bad, or ugly experience with the IRS.
DJ: Just to give people a brief taste of, and obviously to protect people’s privacy, I’m not going to mention any names or go into any detail, but just to give people a brief taste of the submissions we’ve gotten through the audit site so far. I’ve had, I want to say, three conversations with various people who have, are victims of either the tax code, or the IRS. I mean, it kinda gets wrapped up in one, because the IRS is the prime enforcer of it.
But of the three stories I’ve already heard of someone who got… actually, I’ve talked to four victims. You lose track after a while. But the one person got an almost $200,000 levy demand that demanded that they pay that money in 15 days for taxes that were missed on a form that was 5 years ago. And it turned out to be not true, that they didn’t need to pay any of that money. That it was just the IRS sent the letter, the notice to levy in 15 days if you don’t pay us 200 grand to the wrong person. Oops. Sorry to give you a heart attack and put you in hospital, but yeah, wrong person.
JL: And the extra stick that went with that was, “If you don’t pay it within 15 days, we’re going to seize your property.”
DJ: We’re going to seize your property and everything you own. Pretty much. That’s basically what the letter says. If you’ve never seen a levy demand letter, that’s basically what the letter says.
JL: I’ve seen a cease and desist letter from them. I know what kind of tone they use when they come a knocking.
DJ: It’s… rest assured it’s not a: “How are you doing today? We just wanted to inform you that there is an outstanding balance, and we’d like to talk with you soon.” Not exactly how they put it. The, another, that’s one.
Another one is a lady who got three years in jail for a mistake she made on her tax form that did not change her tax liability. I am just blown away by that case. Another one, a guy’s dad ran a plumbing company. His dad passes away. The next day a Treasury agent shows up, and after being told that the dad passed away, went to his dad’s truck and started taking any tools out of it that might be valuable.
And I have heard several stories just over … most of these are on the phone. But over instant message, I’ve heard several stories of people who live outside the United States, who didn’t know they were US citizens, until the IRS decided to come knocking. And one or more of their parents was a US citizen and they never, it was never revealed to them. Or they knew they were US citizens, but they didn’t know that they’d not only have to pay taxes to their country, but they have to pay taxes to the United States on money they never earned in the U.S.
And the mass of forms and prosecutions and they can’t even get a bank to accept them, because they’re a US person, and most banks don’t want to deal with that. This is just in the past four days, three days actually. So it can be a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster listening to the stories of people who have been affected pretty negatively by this agency.
JL: And kind of what Dawn and Kim were talking about, and Bobby, when he was talking to Kim, that the left is not getting the message. This isn’t just the big boys inside the belt way, the K Street crowd, the special-interest lobbyist groups. This is Joe and Jane Citizen, not just those groups. Those nonprofits that are (c)4’s that the muzzle rule applies to. This is all sorts of abuses by the IRS. Especially the muzzle rule issue, and with the lowest order targeting scandal. And Kim’s book is all focusing on the IRS, 99 percent of it is.
But the abuses that the IRS is doing, they didn’t just learn these tactics going after political adversaries of the present party. They’ve been doing this — these types of abusive tactics and behavior — for a long time. And that speaks to the next two items in the audit. The expectations of its employees and IRS’s work culture. There needs to be a serious look at that as well. I obviously agree with that, Dan, or those wouldn’t be on this.
DJ: Well, we hadn’t really even gotten into the areas of the audit. I was just attempting to bring some light on, here the type of stories we’re hearing. And we’re only … it’s only a month old. And between the people who haven’t gone through the website, who’ve gone directly to us and the website itself, we have almost 100 different people who’ve reached out to us.
JL: You had given, the reason I said, the first one an individual taxpayer you spoke to, your example. The next one was a small business, the plumbing company. And the behavior of that employee that allegedly went to the truck to take tools out, things of value.
JL: Is that an expectation that an employee, an agency who’s supposedly serving the needs of the public, and the taxpayers? If it is, and the willingness to conduct themselves the way you hear time and time again, just from the people that I’ve reached out to, all at the IRS, that validates everything you’ve ever heard about how people, the civil asset forfeitures and the audits. Seizing bank accounts. It kind of validates that that’s been going on for a while and that spans generations.
Obviously, it would seem that there’s a culture at the IRS that expects its employees to be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable in their engagements for the taxpayers in order to have them never doubt who’s the boss — who’s in charge.
DJ: Well, there’s a prevailing culture at the IRS. And I used to refer to the IRS as a tax-enforcement agency. And I started just referring to them as tax collectors. And the reason why is because there’s a prevailing culture at the IRS that that’s what they are — an enforcing agency. To use force to get those taxpayers who aren’t willing to pay their fair share; to understand that if they don’t pay their fair share that they have a fancy jail cell waiting for them, and they can seize their bank account. That’s it; there’s almost a police culture at the IRS.
JL: Yes, and it seems like, it is often argued that capital punishment is, in part, intended to be a deterrent to people committing capital crime; to give them the death penalty. That the IRS — that there’s some theater there with the Jack booted thugs with calculators image — that they’re presenting almost to be an intentional boogie man, to create these horror stories. And so that the next taxpayer who thinks about not paying his taxes, or not paying them on time, will think again, because he heard about what happened to Joe down the street, or these people across the country. That it’s intentional, just to make their job easier, of collecting their taxes.
DJ: It is. And when you look at the IRS’s culture, versus… think about a debt collecting…
JL: A bill collector.
DJ: A bill collector at a credit card company, for example. That the bill collector’s credit card company, especially, one of the patterns we’ve noticed… I know we haven’t gone into the areas of the audit yet, but one of the patterns that I have noticed in conducting this audit is the IRS does not train its employees, or if it does, the training doesn’t stick to deal with life crisis in a human manner.
I use the example of a credit company because if the credit card company has been, has sent you a notice, and said, “You’re overdue.” And you call them up, and you say, “Hey, my dad just died. And I’m going through a really hard time right now. Can I put this off for a couple of weeks and get back with you?” The odds are pretty strong that the credit card company’s going to say, “Okay, we’ll get back with you in a couple of weeks. Very sorry for what happened. We understand it’s a terrible situation, we don’t want to put you in it.”
And some of the most emotional people who I’ve talked to, who’ve come to us through the audit, their story isn’t so much that the IRS agents abused them during the process. But that there was a lack of humanity when they went, “My husband died. My father died. I just got a divorce.” These are major life changing events that might affect your ability to go through eight years of business records and dot the i’s and cross the t’s, and hand them over to the IRS.
And agents and the agency, since they view themselves as kind of the tax cops, instead of helping Americans achieve their tax liability, they take this tack of, “Well you’re just saying that to get out of it….”
The, I don’t want to say it’s the Godfather approach that the IRS takes. And for a credit card company, who will, if they don’t get their debts from their customers, go out of business. For them to be kinder than the IRS…. The government is not going to go out of business if the IRS doesn’t get grandmother to send them a $200 check; the IRS is not going to go out of business anytime soon, nor is the federal government, if the IRS doesn’t do its job.
So, for a credit card company who faces the threat of going out of business to be nicer to their customers than the IRS is to people who, whether they’ve fallen behind; whether they are going [into] an audit; whether they’re completely innocent, it doesn’t matter. For the IRS to be worse than a credit card company just speaks to me to this culture of “we’re the cops. We’re chasing down the bad guys who are, who are trying to just screw the system for their own benefit.”
JL: That one’s going to be a tough nut to crack. I spoke to a retired Treasury agent that worked for the IRS and had several of his friends that have worked for the Treasury and worked for the IRS. They’re actually suing the IRS over how it treats its own employees. So they don’t limit their abuse to just the taxpayers out in the public.
They are also abusing their own employees in that they’re suing individually and in — I don’t know if there are class action suits — but suits with multiple plaintiffs in them. And the gentleman seemed very eager to talk about it, until I ask him about talking about it on the record. Within the constraints of what his attorney…
Because he was actively engaged in a lawsuit or we could talk to his attorney, who would obviously know what’s acceptable to say and not say, and that might impact their lawsuit. But we’ve not heard back from him. That he’s actually willing to go public with it. And so, the intimidation factor, he didn’t reach his own employees. Within the ones that are fighting back, or are still intimidated, and they’re part of the culture. And they like what we’re doing. And they weren’t even aware of the audit yet.
We do need to move on. You mentioned speaking to some victims recently. That’s because we solicited folks, the attendees, the 2,000 plus attendees at Freedom Fest, to sign up to tell their story. And on the Audit IRS website, there’s a couple of things that they can do here. I had to scroll down [to] a message at the top of the page that you can learn more about the audit, auditirs.com. Where do I want to point them to here, Dan, to submit their story?
DJ: Yeah, absolutely. Anyone who’s listening, there’s a couple of different ways that you can help with the audit. The first way is to share the website auditirs.com. Follow us on social media. And talk to your friends, talk to your family members who you know have had issues with, or just experiences with, the IRS. Because we do want to highlight what the IRS has been doing right so that we can provide a road map for what the IRS should do in the future. It is absolutely a part of our mission with this audit.
JL: So, yeah, it’s not just a “they get all the bad stuff.” There are probably some good business practices or tax-collecting practices that do serve the public and the taxpayers’ needs, that whatever tax system we have going down the road, whether it’s the IRS or some new, simpler tax system, that those good practices [are kept] in mind in developing.
DJ: Absolutely. So anyone who has an experience with the IRS, if you share this website with them, they can go to the website, they can submit their experience. If they want help from us, then they can click that button. And the second way you can help is we are going to be sending our writers, our videographers, our legal team to investigate and report on the stories of the people who want to go public, who submit their information to the audit. And that’s going to take some money. That’s going to take some airline tickets. Unfortunately, don’t accept promises to make the country better.
So, if you have financial resources that you can bring forward to help the audit, then you can go to taxrevolution.us and click on donate. And you can support the audit that way. The third way to support the audit is if you run an organization, you’re involved with an organization, and you can make it a point, whether you can invite us in to do a presentation, or you can … we have a packet for an organization who wants to talk to their members about the audit they can hand to their members.
We’re one organization of 15 or so people operating across the country but based in the nation’s capital. We don’t have the resources as an organization to change the entire tax system, to change the way the IRS is focused. What it is going to take is grassroots organizations joining this audit, talking to their members about the audit, and submitting their information. Keeping an eye out in their community for areas where the IRS may be crossing the line.
So, if you run an organization, you know of organizations who would get behind the audit, then you can talk to those organizations and bring them on board, just have them go to Audit The IRS, and submit their information. We’ll get back with them that way. And the final way to support the audit is to talk to your congressman, to talk to your senator, to talk to your public, federal elected official. And tell them that you would like the government to bring TRI auditors into the IRS to look at the books.
The primary books review of an audit of the IRS, if I’m not mistaken, and don’t quote me on this Jeff, but I believe there is a federal law that prohibits the financial records of the IRS from being handed to an outside agency for audit. Am I right?
JL: But Congress can recognize an outside independent audit. And, essentially, for the purposes of the duration of the audit, they’re not outsiders anymore. They can go in and the IRS can actually pay for the audit that’s being conducted on them.
DJ: And should. Because as an agency, they will get better compliance, you could say, if people aren’t freaked out about them. If people don’t run for the hills every time the word IRS comes up. That the IRS will have a better time. Their agents will have a better time. Overall, if the IRS is more transparent and accountable, even the employees themselves will have an easier job, instead of getting sent checks with mustard on them or being excoriated publicly.
That really the IRS itself severely benefits from an audit, especially if, let’s say, that the IRS is as accountable as it claims. Well, if that is indeed the case, then a full audit recognized by the IRS will bring a level of legitimacy to the IRS’s claims that they are actually improving as an agency. And it will make a lot less people fear them, I would say.
JL: Yeah, and for those, one of our peers I’ll say, another, a tax reform group in DC that’s been around a long time, that when you and I first encountered them at the Tax Counsel Policy Institute conference we went to, said something that’s true. There’s a lot of good, decent people that work at the IRS. There’s a lot of career civil servants that happen to be civil servant employees, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, working at the IRS, that are caught in the middle of all this politics, that has been subjected upon that agency.
And that, imagine when it’s a Republican administration using the IRS, and is using these career civil servants to push back against and abuse the folks on the left. And then you get a Democrat and a liberal in the White House, and now these same employers are being told to abuse people on the other side. They probably generally think, “Well, if I can just survive this butthead that’s in there now, I’m not going to lose my investment in retirement. I’ve been here 20 years. I’ve only got to suffer through this fool for four years, and maybe some sanity will be restored when the next guy comes in.”
But even the whistleblowers inside the agency, or the people that could blow a lot of whistles, are afraid to speak up because Congress has also failed to protect the whistleblowers from inside the government. In fact, the whistleblowers are made an example of in the same way the taxpayers are. That’s got to change. And if we can get an independent audit in there, we won’t just be looking at the books, that is where you look at the culture and the finances.
I was explaining to TRI’s board. I worked at NASA during the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster investigation. And one of the main things that the investigation revealed was not the cause of the accident itself, but the reason that the cause wasn’t caught and prevented — the culture at NASA. And from my first day working there, I knew I walked into a … I was a stranger in a strange land.
The culture was bizarre. That’s a private little world there in NASA. It’s a private little world at the IRS, and it’s a unique culture there. You may think it’s not important, but it is ultimately important that that be addressed. And that can only be on the inside. But Congress needs to fix the problem with the whistleblowers and not just grant immunity, but actually protect them, to get to the bottom of this. That too would be revolutionary.
DJ: Wouldn’t it though?
JL: The silencing of free speech that Miss Strassel wrote, The Intimidation Game, that lays out the IRS targeting scandal, what this audit is going to dig into, good, bad, and ugly of the IRS, those all are, and we talked at length with Kim about this, about what has been done since that scandal broke publicly. One hundred plus hearings, the IRS has proposed its own solution to the problem, which is that NPR, the proposal that actually cauterizing the law, what they’ve already been doing to abuse or silence, chill, muzzle free speech, is doubling down on it. And it’s been telegraphing that they want to expand it far beyond the people they’ve already been abusing their rights. There needs to be … that’s got to be addressed.
I had written to a member of the Senate in response to their not having time to prioritize addressing this, actually fixing it, not just talking about it, like they’ve done for years. That they would get back to this later. And my response to them, I said, “The reason that that’s totally unacceptable, in part, is because our ability to address grievances with our government, to engage our neighbors or fellow citizens on important issues that might impact who they vote for, or don’t vote for, is all being shut down. Our free speech is how we resolve issues in all facets of our life, not just the government.
And they shut us up this week, because we’re peripherally leading in the wrong direction. Well, next week, they’ll be shutting us up over something else. And, eventually, we won’t have any voice in our own governments. But we’ll be slaves to the whims of men. Just what we are now when they don’t uphold the law. So, we also have the First Amendment Alliance. You want to briefly go over that, Dan?
DJ: Sure. So, the First Amendment Alliance started because in 2014 the IRS introduced a rule that would essentially cut citizen activism off at the knees, get the IRS further into politics, and cut engagement in government honestly. And essentially what it would have done is prevented 501(c)4’s with the option later of (c)3’s, 5’s, 6’s, 7’s, 527’s etc, prevented 501(c)4’s from engaging politically to hold people responsible, to hold politicians responsible.
So, the best way to explain it is, the rule, under the rule, a 501(c)4 organization, which a lot of citizen advocacy groups, groups that engage citizens in government, a lot of citizen advocacy groups are 501(c)4’s, and this rule a (c)4 could talk about an issue. So, they could talk about, let’s say, the audit of the IRS, or they could talk about opposing a war overseas. But they couldn’t mention the name of the politician who introduced the bill to go to war. They couldn’t talk about the name of the people who voted for it and voted against it, couldn’t mention their names. Couldn’t even refer to them as your candidate or your congressman.
It would’ve removed responsibility from politics. And if responsibility is removed, I mean the politicians’ will go crazy, they love it. So, the incumbents are generally for this legislation. And the First Amendment Alliance is designed to do two things: Number one, to stop that rule from being implemented by the IRS, which continues to make it a top priority. Stop that rule from being implemented, number one. And number two, to get the IRS out of the regulating free-speech business. We don’t want to just stop the rule.
JL: And I’ve got the page up right now. And I scrolled down.
JL: These are some of the things that that rule, just a bullet list, and this isn’t all of them. Things that 501(c)4’s currently do, that they won’t be able to do. And you don’t even, like you said, you only had to mention it, that you can’t mention the candidates name. It goes so far as even, if there’s an issue that most people recognize as an issue championed by the incumbent, that even talking about that issue within that 30-day window of a primary or 60-day window of a general function, would qualify as violating the prohibition against express advocacy.
Beacuse subject both to leadership of your 501(c)4, and the organization itself to penalties, which are monetary, and also to subject the organization to the loss of its nonprofit status. And this doesn’t mean that you actually mention that issue or mention that candidate, or handed out voter guides, or did a voter registration within that 30 or 60-day window. If you have a website, and you ever did any of those things within that 30 or 60-day window, you would have to redact, take it off of your website. Or the mere fact that it was available would be a violation.
DJ: Well, that’s true, but I want to focus a little bit more on … we talk a lot inside the organization about we never want to manage a problem, we want to fix it. And our response to this, the Free Speech Protection Act, which is linked on the website, our response to this is not to just stop the rule, like the Senate and Congress continue to want to do. Let’s kick the can down, let’s stop the rule for another 364 days.
But it’s actually to prevent anything like this from coming up again. And to fix some of the problems that came about in the targeting, ongoing targeting, of groups that one administration or another politically doesn’t like. The Free Speech Protection Act is to get the IRS out of regulating free speech, out of the regulating free speech business. They don’t get to decide if a speech is too partisan then, “Oh well, you’re not going to get your nonprofit status.” That they’re not even in that realm.
JL: I want to show them, you mentioned that it was on the site, and talking to Jason Casella, our program director earlier today.