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IRS rule muzzles email legislative alerts.

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) writes | more than 10 years ago

Censorship 11

Your Rights Online.

A new IRS rule (PDF here) would effectively ban advocacy groups from informing their members of pending legislation during the weeks before an election. This would allow legisltaors ram through unpopular legislation before their constituents find out and object.

Your Rights Online.

A new IRS rule (PDF here) would effectively ban advocacy groups from informing their members of pending legislation during the weeks before an election. This would allow legisltaors ram through unpopular legislation before their constituents find out and object.

It can be applied to groups of any political leaning, but is subjective enough to selective enforcement against only those groups unpopular with the IRS bureaucracy and/or the administration. Here is an explanation of how this would work, by one affected organization.

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11 comments

Great pointer, thanks for the heads-up (1)

Tau Zero (75868) | more than 10 years ago | (#8012974)

n/t

Re:Great pointer, thanks for the heads-up (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 10 years ago | (#8014373)

You're welcome.

(I tried to get it posted as an article but it got rejected. So it seemed like a good item for kicking off my journal.)

Ignore it (2, Interesting)

ralphclark (11346) | more than 10 years ago | (#8016101)

If this becomes law I advise ignoring it completely. It's one of those things they try to sneak under the radar, naively assuming that once it's in, it's in for good.

Wrong.

The minute they try to enforce this, there will be a massive backlash from the press, the public, everybody. Those responsible for drafting it will very likely be left flapping in the wind. This isn't one of your geek minority issues, it's a frontal assault on freedom of speech that everybody can understand. Pity the poor idiot who thought it would be a good idea.

Ignore it, get fined into poverty and sent to jail (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 10 years ago | (#8016453)

The minute they try to enforce this, there will be a massive backlash from the press, the public, everybody. Those responsible for drafting it will very likely be left flapping in the wind. This isn't one of your geek minority issues, it's a frontal assault on freedom of speech that everybody can understand.

I'm afraid I can't agree. Because essentially the same issue ust went all the way to the supremem court, where it was upheld.

That was the McCain-Feingold "campaign finance reform" act. This puts strong limits on freedom of speech by grass-roots organizations (including especially ad-hoc operations such as took out Roberti, Roos, and Foley, while leaving things open for billionaires (such as Soros) to become major political powers through their unregulated contributions.

As I understand it the Supreme Court specifically UPHELD the interpretation of email legislative alerts as political campaign material subject both to blackout periods and financial limits (interpreting volunteer time as if it were paid, and counting the postage, copying, and ISP fees of the volunteers as well).

So we now have size limits and blackout periods on political alarm-raising about legislation. And the public, if it notices at all, applauds, because it's played inthe press as a limit on "campaign spending" by "special interests", which are in turn portrayed as nasty-capitalist-pig corporations.

As a follow-on we have the IRS extending the time periods arbitrarily, extending the definitions and making them more subjective, and imposing major penalties on political speech, in the name of "tax enforcement".

If this goes into effect it will apply specifically to the communication necessary to communicate the need for and organize your exected "backlash". Without the communication, the only people doing any lashing back will be the ones currently under indictment and/or fined into poverty and their resources confiscated by the IRS.

Re:Ignore it, get fined into poverty and sent to j (1)

ralphclark (11346) | more than 10 years ago | (#8017082)

Well nobody said it won't be messy. But I still believe that the moment the general public gets wind of this (and made to realize where it leads, courtesy of an indignant press) there will be substantial opposition.

Re:Ignore it, get fined into poverty and sent to j (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 10 years ago | (#8021932)

But I still believe that the moment the general public gets wind of this (and made to realize where it leads, courtesy of an indignant press) there will be substantial opposition.

Why should the press be indignant. This makes them into a much larger power. It doesn't apply to them, but eliminates their major competition as a news source, public opinion shaper, public activity mobilizer, and politican influencer.

The press' political power comes from its ability to propagandize, and one of the biggest tools of propaganda is selective omission. (For instance, reversing perceived cost-benefit tradeoffs by focusing on the cost and ignoring the benefits. The occasional defective car vs. the actual death/injury rate for the model, gun use in crime vs. in self defense, drug or vaccination side-effects vs. lives saved and protection rates, environmental damage vs. environmental benefits, etc.)

And the primary target of propaganda is not so much the population as government officials, especially legislators. Once a congresscritter goes to the capital, he's largely cut off from information sources, with a few exceptions:
- News media.
- Polls.
- Lobbiests.
- Constituent calls.
Polls are routinely biased by a number of techniques, giving the pollster (or the sponsor) an opportunity to create a desired illusion. And they're largely sponsored by media organizations, so when the media has an agenad to push and thus an illusion of public opinion to paint, they normally help. Lobbiests - for both for-profit and grass roots organizations are essentially unaffected - except when mobilizing constituent calls (where non-profit grass-roots organizations get selectively shafted). Constituents are shafted because they're more cut off from information.

So the political power of the press is greatly enhanced by the gutting of the most powerful tool of one of their two major competitors. Why should they complain?

Net result: Less power in the hands of the general population, more in the hands of moneyed interests - especially media conglomerates. (Like RIAA, Time-Warner, Sony, ...)

Re:Ignore it, get fined into poverty and sent to j (1)

ralphclark (11346) | more than 10 years ago | (#8025132)

I suppose I didn't read it carefully enough, it seemed to me from a casual reading that the regulations would also prevent the press from blowing the whistle on the type of guerilla legislation concerned here. But I'll take your word for it. So we may be on our own, but we're still morally obliged to ignore any such laws. Freedom - use it or lose it.

Members? (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 10 years ago | (#8016783)


It looks to me as if this would only affect PR campaigns, not newsletters to members (see 527(e)2 in the PDF). Overall, the organization you linked to is missrepresenting what it says there; it explicitly states in the PDF that they could object to legislation, etc.

-- MarkusQ

P.S. Gack. I'm defending the IRS. I have to go puke now.

Re:Members? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 10 years ago | (#8047617)

It looks to me as if this would only affect PR campaigns, not newsletters to members (see 527(e)2 in the PDF). Overall, the organization you linked to is missrepresenting what it says there; it explicitly states in the PDF that they could object to legislation, etc.

I respectfully disagree. Yes, the IRS document put that prominently up front. But the devil is in the details. When you get to the six "balancing tests" you'll find that the heavily-touted "permission" to exercise free speech is actually a minefield.

GOA explains it in detail, with examples, here [gunowners.org] , in their objection to the ruling.

By the way: Did you notice that five of the IRS' six "examples" involved Senator (who are only up for election one two-year cycle in three) and the remaining example a governor (typically up for election one cycle in two), rather than representatives (who are up for election EVERY cycle, and are typically the source of controversial legislation as they try for name recognition)?

Oops... (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 10 years ago | (#8048194)

When you get to the six "balancing tests" [...].

Oops. Six factors pushing the vauge balancing test toward not-OK (with the caveat that these are NOT exhaustive, meaning the IRS can make up more on-the-fly), five puhing it toward OK.

Note that the IRS deciding that something is NOT OK can be a virtual death sentence for a public advocacy organization - if the IRS wants to kill it. First they demand income taxes on any money spent on the campaign. Then they add on penalties. Then they can (if they're feeling pissy) add in the manhours and materials the members spent on contacting each other, contacting their neighbors, and calling or writing their legislators, and treat THAT as a contribution on which tax is due (ESPECIALLY if some of 'em slipped up and went further across the fuzzy line toward campaigning). (That one got added after grass-roots ad-hoc letter writing campaigns took out Roos, Roberti, and Foley.) Then there's the cost of the audit, the cost of fighting in tax court (where you almost certainly lose but you have to try). If that doesn't kill 'em and IRS wants to go nuclear, they can try revocation of tax-exempt status for the organization (goodbye contributors - and maybe penalties for some of THEM if they fail to notice and deduct their contribution) and criminal prosecution of its officials for tax fraud...

Remember: Like Customs and BATF, IRS is part of Treasury. They have enormous power, are involved in the day-to-day enforcement of laws that are very costly to obey, and have to exhibit a hard-line attitude to remain effective. So they perform draconian enforcement actions for even minor infractions as a matter of policy.

When the IRS tells you "don't do it that way", you'd BETTER not do it that way. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life paying for it.

Re:Members? (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 10 years ago | (#8048221)


MarkusQ: t looks to me as if this would only affect PR campaigns, not newsletters to members (see 527(e)2 in the PDF). Overall, the organization you linked to is missrepresenting what it says there; it explicitly states in the PDF that they could object to legislation, etc.

Ungrounded Lightning: I respectfully disagree. Yes, the IRS document put that prominently up front. But the devil is in the details. When you get to the six "balancing tests" you'll find that the heavily-touted "permission" to exercise free speech is actually a minefield.

I think you are missing my point. All six of the examples involve mass-media PR campaigns; none of them involve a group sending communications to its members. Why? Because despite what the group you linked to is claiming, this doesn't apply to organizational newsletters.

It isn't saying that they can't communicate anything they want to their members, it's saying that if they use general organizational funds to launch mass media advertizing campaigns to try to influence elections (rather than to affect pending legislation) then they will have to pay taxes. Note that, even then, they aren't being told that they can't say whatever they want, just that they can't claim tax exemption if the do it out of their general fund in a way that to a reasonable person would seem more aimed at manipulating the electorate than informing the public.

I happen to be a gun owner, and do not have any bias against the GOA's advocacy positions that I am aware of. But they aren't presenting this issue honestly at all, and that I do object to.

-- MarkusQ

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