Senators warn IRS to ignore political pressure to rewrite super-PAC rules

Republican leaders in the Senate are urging the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to resist political pressure to update tax rules pertaining to 501(c)(4) groups, or super-PACs.

In a letter sent Monday, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (Utah) and nine other GOP members, urged IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to resist "partisan political gains" when it comes to updating decades-old rules pertaining to the nonprofit groups. Signing on to the letter were members of Senate GOP leadership, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (Ky.) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.).

They want to know if the IRS has already begun work on updating regulations pertaining to those groups, warning that any quick alterations in the midst of a heated political fight over super-PAC spending could undermine the agency's apolitical reputation.

"Public confidence in the non-partisan integrity of the agency demands that you issue no sub-regulatory guidance nor engage in any similar efforts that would effectuate immediate changes without a lengthy period of review, separated in time from the current heated political environment," they wrote.

In March, seven Senate Democrats sent a letter to Shulman, calling on the IRS to update its regulations on 501(c)(4) groups, requiring that any group identifying as such must adhere to a strict percentage-based cap on political activities. They also said the IRS should require all such groups to disclose upfront to donors how much of their activity is political. The lawmakers added that if the IRS failed to adjust its rules accordingly, they planned to push a bill to do so.

"We urge the IRS to take these steps immediately to prevent abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities. But if the IRS is unable to issue administrative guidance in this area then we plan to introduce legislation to accomplish these important changes,” the senators wrote.

But the Republican members in Monday's letter dismissed those concerns as not pragmatic, but political.

"We believe these petitions have less to do with concerns about the sanctity of the tax code and more about setting the tone for the upcoming presidential election, and we urge you to resist allowing the IRS rule-making process to be subverted to achieve partisan political gains," they wrote.

Republican concern was piqued by Shulman's July response to the Democratic urging. In his response, Shulman said the IRS was aware of the concerns and "will consider proposed changes" to the pertinent regulations.

The GOP members said the "ambiguity" of his response raises questions as to whether the IRS is already working on updating the rules, even though it did not identify it as a priority for the years of 2011 and 2012. The members were quick to say they did not have a position on the issue, but urged the IRS to take a more deliberate road in considering updates to existing rules after being pressed on the matter by public officials.

"The regulatory process should be measured, and undertaken with great care," they wrote.

Joining McConnell and Kyl on the letter were Republican Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (Iowa), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsOvernight Finance: Lawmakers, Treasury look to close tax law loopholes | Trump says he backs gas tax hike | Markets rise despite higher inflation | Fannie Mae asks for .7B Senators working on fix to agriculture provision in GOP tax law Trump budget would slash crop insurance funds for farmers MORE (Kan.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion Overnight Finance: Breaking down Trump's budget | White House finally releases infrastructure plan | Why it faces a tough road ahead | GOP, Dems feud over tax-cut aftermath | Markets rebound MORE (Wyo.), John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (Texas), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (S.D.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Trump health chief backs CDC research on gun violence | GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix | Groups sue over cuts to teen pregnancy program GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix 30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help MORE (Tenn.), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas).

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia MORE (D-N.Y.), who co-signed the March letter sent by Democrats, contended Monday that Republicans were the ones applying the pressure.

"The only thing missing from the Republicans’ letter is the ‘or else,'" he said in a statement. "This unsubtle threat is clearly designed to put a chilling effect on the agency’s enforcement of the law. The IRS should not be bullied into looking the other way."

This post updated at 5:27 pm.