The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee late Tuesday proposed legislation that would bar the IRS and Treasury from blocking Tea Party and other conservative tax exempt groups from engaging in political activity, potentially violating their First Amendment rights.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., took the emergency action after the House failed to include the provision in a new spending bill that only warned the Internal Revenue Service not to use its $11 billion budget to target conservative groups.
His committee has spent nearly eight months investigating the IRS targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups opposed to the president's re-election and fears that the administration is moving prematurely to muzzle the groups already hounded by the administration in the scandal.
He wants to finish his investigation before letting the administration push through new rules limiting what the groups, known as 501(c)4 tax exempt groups, can or can't do politically.
His bill, titled “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014,” would stop Treasury's November proposal to bar the groups from engaging in voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities, or to convene candidate forums without jeopardizing their exempt status.
Camp's prohibition would last a year to allow for his investigation of the Tea Party targeting to be completed.
His proposal should satisfy groups surprised and upset with Treasury's new rules. In a letter last week, 50 groups said the Treasury-IRS rules would violate the First Amendment rights while letting other tax exempts, namely Big Labor, conduct the very same political activities they would be banned from doing.
"Despite the administration's insistence that there's nothing to see here,' the committee has found evidence demonstrating that right-leaning groups were targeted to an extent far beyond what was reported by the Inspector General,” Camp said in a statement.
“Our investigation is still ongoing and the committee has not received all the requested documents. It is premature to publish new rules before getting all of the facts. The administration's proposed rules openly target groups that are exercising their First Amendment rights. We cannot allow these draft regulations to go into effect. Congress must make sure every American's right to participate and engage in civic debate is protected, and this legislation will provide some much-needed assurance that IRS targeting and surveillance will not continue,” said Camp.
He also hit the administration's effort to sweep the scandal under the rug. “Additionally, I am disappointed by reports that the Department of Justice had decided - without conducting a serious investigation - that it will not to pursue criminal charges in the IRS's intentional targeting of conservative groups. I have long said that we will follow the facts of this case wherever the facts lead us - and this case is far from closed.”Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.