McConnell: Obama ‘declaring a war’ on free speech with IRS move
© Lauren Schneiderman

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP senator: There will never be full U.S.-Mexico border wall Overnight Tech: Dem wants to see FCC chief's net neutrality plans | New agency panel on telecom diversity | Trump calls NASA astronaut Senate approves Trump's Agriculture chief MORE (R-Ky.) accused President Obama of waging a war against free speech by changing the tax code to stop political organizations from claiming tax-exempt nonprofit status.

McConnell said the administration is expected to change the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) code by more broadly defining political activity.

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“What the administration is planning here is nothing less than declaring a war not just on its opponents, but on free speech itself,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. “The administration proposes to redefine political activity so broadly that grass-root groups all across the country that exist for the sole purpose of speaking out on issues of liberty or limited government or free enterprise or anything else that the administration doesn’t want to hear about will be forced to shut down … just in time by the way for the midterm elections.”

The IRS got into trouble last year for giving Tea Party groups' applications for tax-exempt status more scrutiny. The administration is now changing the rules so politically active groups won’t qualify for the exemption.

“They want those who disagree with them to sit down and shut up,” McConnell said.

McConnell called on the head of the IRS to stand up against the administration’s “thuggery” and vowed Republicans would continue to fight the IRS code change because it violated the First Amendment.

"The new IRS commissioner has a simple choice: He can either restore the public’s trust in an agency whose reputation was already in doubt, or he can allow himself to be used as a political pawn by an administration that now seems willing to do anything to keep those it disagrees with from fully exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech," McConnell said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) defended the administration and said the action was needed because people like the Koch brothers "disguise" themselves as social welfare organizations, even though their organizations are trying to unseat Democrats in Congress.

"These social welfare organizations are extremely helpful, but the Koch brothers aren’t a social welfare organization," Reid said. "Folks who act as political organizations should have to disclose where the money comes from."

Philip Ellender, the president of Koch Companies, called Reid's comments "disrespectful" and said Charles and David Koch would continue to exercise their First Amendment rights.

This article was updated at 7 p.m. to include the Koch's reponse.