IRS to Propose Regulations on Political Activity by Nonprofits

The Internal Revenue Service may issue, as early as June, new draft regulations governing political activity by tax-exempt organizations, though it remains unlikely new rules will be in place before the 2016 election cycle, the New York Times reports.

While nonprofit organizations prepare to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the 2016 races, much of it in support of campaign ads thinly veiled as awareness campaigns, the IRS is anxious not to appear as if it is trying to influence the outcome of those races, including the contest for president. A similar attempt in 2013 to rewrite the rules governing political activity by tax-exempt organizations drew widespread criticism from both liberal and conservative groups — some of which faulted the agency for going too far in its efforts to rein in such activity, while others argued that the proposed limits did not go far enough. Current regulations provide no clear test for what constitutes election activity or for how much tax-exempt groups can spend to try to influence elections.

"This is a huge important rule-making, and it is very encouraging that [the IRS is] moving forward and that they are sensitive to the speed with which they need to do so," said Emily Peterson-Cassin, an official at Public Citizen's Congress Watch, which has pressed for more specific rules that would, among other things, establish an objective test. "What we really want is a good, fair rule for political activity that applies to all nonprofits."

Nicholas Confessore. "IRS Seeks to Define Political Activity for Nonprofits." New York Times 05/22/2015.