At CFIF, the issue of improving taxpayer privacy and protection against persistent abuse by the Internal…
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Quote of the Day: Taxpayer Privacy and IRS Abuse

At CFIF, the issue of improving taxpayer privacy and protection against persistent abuse by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) remains among our most important missions.  Among the abuses that we've chronicled is the case of convicted criminal Charles Littlejohn, who rejoined the IRS in 2017 with the specific purpose of illegally breaching and leaking the private tax returns of Donald Trump and other Americans to radical left-wing organizations like ProPublica.

In The Wall Street Journal this week, one of those victims speaks out on his own experience and the need for greater taxpayer protection against this recurring problem that should terrify all Americans of every political persuasion.  Ira Stoll, whose tax information was passed to ProPublica, even helpfully details how…[more]

May 29, 2024 • 11:28 AM

Liberty Update

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Tax Reform Bill Must Include Donor Privacy Protection from IRS Print
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, June 22 2017
The simple truth is that the First Amendment freedoms of speech, association and political participation can be chilled by forced exposure of donors' personal information.

"The role of money in politics is a major problem.  And particularly the role of unchecked anonymous money.  There have been super-PACs in Washington who have been putting up tens of millions of dollars in attack ads for months now."

Talk about chutzpah. 

That was Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for Congress from Georgia's sixth district, speaking to National Public Radio during a week in which he lost his race against Republican Karen Handel. 

It's particularly rich coming from a man who spent a record $32 million on his campaign - exceeding his Republican opponent by $9 million - and who raised $23 million primarily from leftist donors in California and other states outside of Georgia. 

Beyond its value as farcical amusement, Ossoff's sheer brazenness highlights liberals' ongoing, near-maniacal campaign to restrict Americans' First Amendment rights to donate privately to causes or candidates they happen to support without paying a public price. 

As recent events tragically demonstrate, today's increasingly acrimonious and even violent political environment, combined with the ability to access donors' intimate identifying information online, makes privacy more important than ever. 

The question boils down to this:  Are you comfortable with potentially vindictive government officials, your employer, your neighbors or anyone who wishes you ill solely on the basis of your political beliefs possessing sensitive information such as your name, address, phone number, employer and other data because you donated to a cause or candidate they disfavor? 

People like Ossoff who support regulation of free speech advocate laws compelling nonprofit groups to disclose personal information about their donors.  They repeat the superficially alluring rationale that such laws limit "dark money"  and promote "transparency." 

But their real goal is to chill speech and political participation by people and groups whose viewpoints they find objectionable. 

After all, it's not conservatives you see around the nation's streets and college campuses engaging in censorship of liberal speech, but rather the converse.  It's not liberal donors who most often lose their jobs, suffer boycotts or get attacked for expressing their beliefs.  It wasn't liberal organizations that were widely targeted by Lois Lerner and IRS officials, but conservatives. 

The simple truth is that the First Amendment freedoms of speech, association and political participation can be chilled by forced exposure of donors' personal information. 

The U.S. Supreme Court squarely addressed this issue in NAACP v. Alabama (1958), when state officials demanded disclosure of that organization's sensitive membership data.  In a unanimous decision, the Court rightly recognized that forced disclosure of donors and members would cripple its ability to engage in First Amendment activity: 

"This Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one's associations.  Compelled disclosure of membership in an organization engaged in advocacy of particular beliefs is of the same order.  Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs." 

Since that decision, citizens' right to privately engage in political activity has eroded in the era of McCain-Feingold and similar laws at the federal, state and local levels.  As a direct consequence, we increasingly witness citizens being driven from their jobs or targeted by government officials like Ms. Lerner. 

The good news is that Congress can - and should - act quickly to rectify this increasingly pressing problem. 

Last year, the House of Representatives passed a law entitled the "Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act."  That legislation would've prohibited the IRS from forcing nonprofit organizations to surrender their confidential donors' identifying information. 

Under current law, nonprofit organizations must disclose private donor information to the IRS on Schedule B of their tax returns. While the Schedule B is supposed to remain confidential, in recent years, such disclosure led to the leaking of the National Organization for Marriage's confidential donor data. Additionally, politically motivated state attorneys general have demanded confidential donor information in their climate change alarmist crusade. 

Accordingly, the House acted to protect private donors, as the bill's sponsor Congressman Peter Roskam (R - Illinois) cogently summarized: 

"We voted to eliminate a confidential form the IRS proved incapable of securing.  The agency has said it doesn't even need this form for tax administration in the first place.  Either one of these facts should be reason enough to eliminate an onerous regulation.  In this case, we have both."  

Although Senator Tim Scott (R - South Carolina) introduced similar legislation, it failed to become law during the Obama Administration. 

Accordingly, it's critical that Congress act to protect Americans' right to privacy as it relates to political participation.  And tax reform legislation provides the perfect vehicle for accomplishing it. 

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R - Wisconsin) has said that this is the moment to "fix this nation's tax code, once and for all." 

That includes protection of Americans' First Amendment freedoms of speech, assembly and political participation from IRS recklessness or intentional targeting of people and groups whom they disfavor. 

Notable Quote   
 
"Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says Democrats have tipped their hand to their desire to unleash noncitizen voting by opposing his state's citizenship verification in court and he is urging elections chiefs in other states to fight such lawsuits.Georgia's citizenship verification system has prevented noncitizens from getting on state voter rolls, but the state had to defend it in court…[more]
 
 
— Natalia Mittelstadt, Just the News
 
Liberty Poll   

Which would be the most useful for voters: a televised presidential debate that only includes Trump and Biden or one that adds Kennedy?