Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Conservatives: IRS ‘targeting’ an attack on free speech

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 2/17/2014

When it comes to government, less is more, Bob Fluke said.

And the Franklin County Republican Central Committee chairman doesn’t think the government should target him and his fellow conservatives for speaking out about those beliefs, he said.

“It’s unfortunate that you have to pass a bill to protect [free speech] rights,” Fluke said.

Legislation introduced earlier this month by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., aims to curb a threat leveled by a new Internal Revenue Service regulation that would hurt the First Amendment rights of both conservatives and liberals, Fluke said. The proposed IRS rule in question would endanger the non-profit status of certain organizations that participate in political activity, including voter registration, voter education, communications that mention a candidate or party and events in which a candidate participates, among other activities. The regulations, stipulated by the U.S. Department of Treasury, do not apply to other such organizations as charities, labor unions or trade associations.

Roberts’ bill, introduced with U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and which would prohibit the finalization of the new IRS rule for one year, was backed by 37 other senators, including U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. Conservatives, including Roberts, have called the federal government’s move an attempt by the Obama administration to further target opposition groups using the IRS.

“This is, in effect, suppression of free speech for these Americans,” Roberts said. “The proposed regulations would result in continued sanction intimidation and harassment of these groups.”

Moran said stopping the IRS regulation isn’t about a particular political party.

“No matter your political stripes, targeting non-profit groups is terribly damaging to our democracy,” he said. “Every American should expect even-handed treatment by the Internal Revenue Service — and that clearly is not the IRS we have.”

The government should stay out of personal matters as much as possible, Fluke said, but sometimes more laws, such as the one proposed by Roberts, are needed to maintain the system of checks and balances designed for the federal government.

“Unfortunately this looks like a situation where the government overstepped its bounds, and unfortunately law has to take place to get it back to what it was before,” Fluke said.

Because the bill comes in the wake of the spring 2013 scandal involving the IRS targeting conservative groups, Fluke said, conservatives are sensitive to the issue, but that doesn’t mean liberals couldn’t one day be targeted themselves after a change in the White House. That’s why bipartisan protection for political expression is needed, he said.

“I hope it would be equal,” he said. “To protect just the conservative side wouldn’t be fair either.”

But not everyone thinks the IRS move is an out-of-bounds attack on free speech rights — especially those of conservatives.

“The targeting by the IRS is a pattern,” Caren Rugg, Ottawa, said. “They take the party that is in the White House and look more closely at the opposition organizations that pop up. It happened under [George W.] Bush with some of these groups that were beginning to form who were in opposition to his policies. And it’s not that they are necessarily targeting in a discriminatory manner, but they are trying to discern if these are legitimate organizations that are not using the protection of the [non-profit] status to do inappropriate things.”

Americans need more education about how the IRS works, Rugg said, not political posturing through legislation.

“I don’t think there needs to be a bill because it again adds more confusion to the mix,” Rugg said. “I think what people need is a better understanding of what the IRS is doing when ‘targeting’ these populations.”

Roberts’ proposal is a way for conservatives to stir up controversy in an election year, she said.

“There was no outrage when this was happening with liberals and Democrats when they were opposing Bush and his policies,” Rugg said. “Most people wouldn’t agree with this, but I think it’s probably a sign of the IRS working in an appropriate manner for the best interest of the American people. Just because you apply for this classification from the federal government doesn’t mean you’re doing it for the right reasons.”

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