The IRS isn’t exactly topping conservatives’ nice list this Christmas — so the idea of handing over even more sensitive information to an agency caught leaking it doesn’t exactly thrill most Americans. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Obama administration is proposing under a little rule quietly announced this September. The IRS didn’t make much noise about the idea, and considering the opposition — it’s easy to see why.
Under this “optional” new system, the agency is suggesting that 501(c)(3) organizations (like FRC) consider doing away with their written acknowledgements of gifts over $250 and consider sending all of their donors’ personal information to the agency instead. Specifically, the IRS is interested in Social Security numbers, which the agency insists would make it easier for givers. Instead of processing lots of paperwork, officials are cheering the idea as a way to cut down on paperwork and streamline the filing for both sides. Google “Lois Lerner” if you think this is a good idea. Now, how many of you would knowingly share your conservative associations with an agency — not just openly hostile to your beliefs, but with a history of punishing those beliefs with impunity? Anyone?
After years of targeting conservative groups for harassment, the IRS’s relationship with nonprofits has been taxed to say the least. First, it leaked confidential donor information to gay activists to shame natural marriage supporters in 2012. Then came the even bigger revelation: that the head of the tax-exemption agency had been systematically revoking the nonprofit status of conservative and Christian organizations. That Tour d’Intimidation continued well into Lerner’s resignation last year — and, thanks to a Justice Department that refuses to pursue the lawbreakers, it may still be ongoing. To say there are trust issues between charities and the IRS would be an understatement.
But even if the climate of intimidation weren’t as it is, the rule still ranks right up there with one of the worst ideas ever. In case Americans haven’t noticed, the Obama administration hasn’t exactly been Fort Knox on data security. Not to mention that nonprofits would now be in the business of collecting that information. And, as election law attorney Cleta Mitchell points out, “How does any donor know whether a charity is going to be able to protect that information?”
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As it stands, groups like FRC don’t ask for — nor do they need — donors’ Social Security information to process gifts. If they were forced to, it would significantly raise the cost of securing that data. More importantly, it would scare away potential donors, who (naturally) doubt the government’s reliability when it comes to safeguarding their personal details. And even if both sides could be trusted, the system itself is rife for abuse. “Scam artists, of which there are many, will start preying on people,” warned the CEO of the National Council for Nonprofits. “They’ll say they can’t take your tax deductible contribution unless you give them their Social Security number.” Even the Treasury Department is worried about the risks!
And while the rule would be voluntary at the outset, don’t be fooled. That’s the way a lot of these regulations work. The first year, the government makes them voluntary to give groups time to “get in line.” By the second or third year, they simply change one word: “voluntary” to “mandatory.”
If you’re as concerned as we are, join the chorus of critics in opposing the rule. (Follow this link to the blue button in the upper right.) The government is driving public comments to the IRS page before the window for input closes December 16. So this Christmas, give the IRS what it deserves: a piece of your mind!
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.