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‘Speech Police’ Expanding Under Obama, McConnell Writes

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mitch McConnell is continuing his push to tie Democratic efforts to increase campaign finance disclosures to the IRS scandal. In a new Washington Post opinion piece, the Kentucky Republican warns of “the spread of the speech police under the Obama administration.”

Democrats have been arguing that the recent flap surrounding revelations that the IRS targeted conservative-sounding groups for special review gives more credence to the idea that there should be increased campaign finance transparency through legislation known as the DISCLOSE Act. But McConnell disagrees, strongly.

“Oddly, some on the left are now arguing that the IRS scandal is reason to revive the Disclose Act. But if this scandal has taught us anything, it is that Washington’s ability to target individuals and groups is already too expansive,” McConnell wrote. “We should be looking at ways to limit, not expand, the government’s ability to target people because of their beliefs and the causes they support. And we should take a serious look at the culture that enabled this scandal.”

As we’ve reported, McConnell was way out in front on the IRS targeting issue. It fits within his sometimes controversial view of the First Amendment, which holds there should be little restraint on political speech. Still, as CQ Roll Call’s Eliza Newlin Carney recently explained, the system through which the IRS makes tax-exemption determinations for groups engaged in some political activity is so difficult to quantify that problems were kind of inevitable:

Until recently, only tax lawyers, campaign finance watchdogs and policy wonks could have told you that the IRS regulations governing such groups are hopelessly vague. Now, thanks to congressional probes, an FBI inquiry and wall-to-wall media coverage, terms such as “primary purpose” and “facts and circumstances” are practically in vogue.

It has become common knowledge that IRS rules require 501(c)(4) groups to focus on social welfare as their “primary purpose” but fail to define precisely what that means. Moreover, the agency has no “bright line” rule to distinguish between political activity and advocacy, relying instead on a multipart “facts and circumstances” test that’s innately subjective.

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