IRS to tackle political spending rule again

The Internal Revenue Service is poised to take another stab at regulations governing political activities by the type of tax-exempt groups at the center of the agency’s year-old targeting scandal.

The decision to revise a draft rule, unveiled in November, follows pressure from congressional Republicans to push the rule back and as the agency pores over an unprecedented number of comments submitted in response to the proposal.

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"In all likelihood we will re-propose a redefined rule and ask for more public comment," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told USA TODAY Monday.

The proposed rule, crafted as a response to the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups, would make clear that activities for or against a candidate would not count toward a nonprofit 501(c)(4) group’s stated goal of promoting social welfare.

However, they do not specify how much political activity a group can engage in and still receive that designation.

The regulations have come under fire from Republicans, who argue the rules would serve to codify the same brand of targeting that led to the IRS scandal.

“It is our view that finalizing this proposed rule would make intimidation and harassment of the administration's political opponents the official policy of the IRS and would allow the Obama administration to use your agency as a partisan tool,” Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other GOP lawmakers wrote in a February letter urging Koskinen to pull the rule back.

Koskinen had previously signaled that the IRS would proceed cautiously with the rule.

In a speech earlier this month at the National Press Club, Koskinen cited a record 150,000 submissions received during a public comment period.

“In fact, if you take all the comments on all Treasury and IRS draft proposals over the last seven years and double that number, you come close to the number of comments we are now beginning to review and analyze,” he said.

Koskinen said after sorting through the comments, the agency would consider re-proposing the rule and soliciting more feedback to the revised versions — a process he predicted would not be complete until next year, after the midterm elections.