As the on-going scandal about the IRS’ scrutiny of conservative groups grinds on, the underlying issue–the fuzzy logic that leads to poor enforcement–is almost never discussed.
Gary D. Bass and Elizabeth J. Kingsley write in the Washington Post of a proposal to change and clarify the regulation in question.
The IRS’s improper scrutiny of conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status certainly warrants investigation. But we must not lose sight of the underlying problems that led to this situation: the lack of workable standards to determine what activity the Internal Revenue Service considers “political” and how much of it a nonprofit group can do.
This issue was highlighted last Friday during a House hearing on IRS activity. Asked if he could define when a group applying for tax exemption as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare organization” is being too political, Steven T. Miller admitted that he could not say for sure. If the IRS’s former acting commissioner doesn’t know, it is impossible to expect front-line staff reviewing applications to know what to look for, nor for citizen advocacy groups to understand what rules govern their conduct.