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AMA to Congress: IRS plan would 'stifle nonpartisan speech'

February 28, 2014

PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- A new rule proposed by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service would stifle nonpartisan speech and create a de-facto blackout period around elections, barring some citizens from communicating with elected officials, Wayne Allard, vice president of government relations for the American Motorcyclist Association, told a congressional subcommittee on Thursday, Feb. 27.

Allard, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, offered comments about the IRS' proposed guidance to tax-exempt corporations organized under Section 501(c)(4) of Title 26.

"The proposed rule the IRS seeks to implement will stifle nonpartisan speech in a manner that leads to a less informed electorate," Allard told the subcommittee.

Since the late 1950s, the IRS has allowed 501(c)(4) nonprofits -- such as the AMA -- to participate in issue-based advocacy, as long as their "primary" focus remained social welfare.

Communications about legislation or public policy have never been restricted for this IRS class of non-profit organization.

Among other provisions, the new IRS proposal would classify any communication to the public that even mentions a political candidate within 60 days of an election as political activity.

"This creates an odd situation," Allard told the committee. "The timing of the speech is what makes it political, not the content."

This "de facto blackout period" leaves the government less accountable to the people it serves, Allard said.

The IRS proposal would outlaw material "without regard to whether the public communication is intended to influence the election or some other, non-electoral actions," such as a vote on pending legislation.

At a time when the proportion of eligible voters casting a ballot is declining, the AMA opposes any efforts to restrict access to voter registration drives, voter guides and information related to their elected representatives' voting records, Allard said.

Nonprofits organized as 501(c)4 corporations could lose their tax-exempt status for violating the rules.

Allard offered his comments to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation & Regulatory Affairs.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), ranking member of the subcommittee, thanked Allard for his observations.

"I appreciate your points on the time restrictions," Cartwright said. "I think that's worth looking into. Having served on Capitol Hill, you know about the work that goes on here."

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