Flake introduces legislation as IRS scandal grows

May 15, 2013

Senator Jeff Flake proposed new legislation Tuesday in response to revelations the Internal Revenue Service applied stricter standards to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status during the last election cycle.

Flake’s legislation would ban the IRS from taking into account ideology when evaluating an organization. It would also require the IRS to report allegations of discrimination to Congress.

But it may not deal with deeper issues that open the system for abuse.

IRS tax evaluators decide whether organizations can qualify for nonprofit status. Groups that advocate on behalf of social welfare issues can qualify but partisan political advocacy groups cannot.

There’s a grey area, though: social welfare organizations can engage in some political activity. It’s up to IRS evaluators to decide whether they crossed the line and are too political.

Michael MacLeod-Ball from the ACLU says Flake’s bill seems to respond to this particular instance of inappropriate IRS activity, but he says the legislation doesn’t go deep enough to correct a problem in current law.

“The IRS is charged with the duty make a decision about the tax-exempt status of organizations,” MacLeod-Ball said. “In order to do that, the IRS has to decide if they’re engaged in partisan political activity.”

But MacLeod-Ball says the line between partisan advocacy on behalf of a candidate and issue advocacy can be very fuzzy, which leaves IRS evaluators to make subjective decisions and opens the system up for abuse.

Flake’s office said in an email statement to KJZZ that, “this type of subjectivity shouldn’t be employed by a government entity that is supposed to have no subjective leanings.”

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