The week roared in like a lion with the public disclosure of an IRS letter to Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center that, to some reform-minded readers, heralded the advent of long-sought changes limiting the amount of political activity that can be engaged in by 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. We previously blogged about the IRS letter here.
By the end of the week, however, the roar sounded more like a lamb’s bleat. Steven Miller, Deputy Commissioner Services and Enforcement at the IRS, was grilled about 501(c)(4) organizations during the July 25 House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee hearing on public charities. Miller revealed that some locally organized Tea Party groups had been approved by the IRS as 501(c)(4) organizations and that more approvals were on the way.
As the principal objection leveled against Tea Party applicants is that they engage in too much political campaign activity, it is difficult to discern from IRS present practice a willingness to tighten up the political activity limits applied to social welfare organizations under even the current Treasury regulations. Perhaps some in the IRS are of the view that any limitations on the political activity of social welfare organizations should, or would have to, come through legislation, rather than regulation.