Panel votes to block IRS regulations

Congressional Republicans on Tuesday revved up their response to last year’s IRS targeting controversy.

A crucial House committee cleared a measure to delay regulations meant to curb so-called “dark money” groups. The House Ways and Means Committee advanced the measure to delay new rules for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups for a year by a party-line 23-13 vote.

Top GOP senators also introduced their own version of the legislation on Tuesday.

Republicans have said the proposed rules are an affront to the First Amendment, and would merely institutionalize the targeting of Tea Party groups that the IRS apologized for in May 2013. The Treasury Department and the IRS released the proposed rules — which have received tens of thousands of comments so far — in November.

“Some in Washington have tried to sweep this under the rug, calling the IRS targeting an attempt to ‘streamline determinations’ that was based in ‘confusion’ about the rules,” House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). “That rhetoric does not match the reality of what this investigation has uncovered so far.”

Republicans are intensifying their efforts on the IRS at a time when the midterm election cycle is starting to heat up.

A GOP leadership aide said the House would likely take up the IRS measure in late February, and Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOvernight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm Jeff Flake: Trump has 'debased' the presidency Senate Democrats look for traction on gas prices MORE (R-Ariz.) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsRepublicans think Trump is losing trade war Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure MORE (R-Kan.) have introduced companion legislation to the Ways and Means bill.

Dozens of Republicans — including GOP leaders and top Republicans on the Finance Committee — also signed on to the Senate bill, which is unlikely to gain any traction in the chamber.

“It is clear the IRS has no capacity to regulate political activity without running roughshod over people’s fundamental constitutional rights,” Roberts, who is facing a Tea Party challenge in his reelection bid this year, said in a statement.

Under the proposed rules, 501(c)(4) groups would not be able to count activities for or against candidates as part of their social welfare mission. The rules also ask for guidance on how much social welfare work 501(c)(4)s should have to engage in — an area campaign finance reform advocates say is now muddled.

Camp said Tuesday that the current rules would count nonpartisan get out the vote efforts as political activity for 501(c)(4)s, but not for unions and other groups with tax exempt status.

Democrats cast Tuesday’s mark-up as a waste of time, given that Republicans have yet to find any proof of political motivation behind the targeting, or any involvement outside the IRS.

“I know it upsets you,” Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), also a member of Democratic leadership, told Republicans on the panel.

Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the panel, said the proposed rules would add more clarity to the oversight of groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars during the 2012 campaign without having to disclose their donors.

Democrats added that the Treasury inspector general report outlining the targeting, which several of them have sharply criticized, also called for clearing up some of the rules governing social welfare groups. 

This post has been updated to reflect the timing of the House vote.