- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The House took a concrete step Tuesday to neuter the IRS in the wake of the tea party-targeting scandal, approving legislation that would stop the tax agency from being able to request the names of major donors to nonprofit organizations.

IRS officials have signaled they don’t regularly use the information anyway, and it’s sometimes supposed to be shielded from public view — though the agency did leak donor data in one high-profile cases several years ago involving contributors to a pro-traditional marriage group.

After that, and in the wake of the tea party-targeting scandal, in which the IRS asked intrusive questions, including names of donors, Republicans said it’s time to change the law and keep out the hands of an overbearing IRS.

“The IRS has demonstrated an inability to hold this information in the past, they’ve demonstrated an inability to hold it in the future, and they don’t need it. So if they don’t need it, let’s not give it to them,” said Rep. Peter J. Roskam, the Illinois Republican who wrote the bill.

His legislation passed on a 240-182 vote, split almost entirely along party lines.

Democrats balked at the bill, fearing that if the information isn’t being collected, it would open the door to a host of nefarious schemes to influence politics. Rep. Xavier Becerra even warned that if the donors aren’t being collected, the Islamic State might try to siphon money to the U.S. to sway the outcome of races.

“This bill becomes a license to secretly influence our elections,” the California Democrat said.

Republicans ridiculed that, with Mr. Roskam saying the terrorist organization was more intent on “cutting people’s heads off” instead of writing backdoor campaign checks.

The IRS has been a target for Republican ire for years, but that intensified after the agency was caught subjecting conservative groups’ nonprofit status applications to intrusive — and, at times, illegal — scrutiny. Some applications were delayed beyond the point set in law, while other groups were asked inappropriate questions about their members’ families, personal political activities and donors.

Donor information is reported on something dubbed “Schedule B” — though top IRS officials have since said they don’t regularly review that information, and they’re not supposed to release it anyway, so it’s unclear what purpose it serves.

In one now-infamous instance the IRS released donor information from the National Organization for Marriage to an outsider, and it was quickly used by gay rights supporters to attack the traditional marriage group. The IRS paid a $50,000 settlement to the group for the bungle.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget opposed Mr. Roskam’s changes, saying they “would constrain the IRS in enforcing tax laws and reduce the transparency of private foundations.” But President Obama stopped short of issuing a veto threat on the bill, which means that, if it clears the Senate, it could become law.

Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, introduced a version of the bill in his chamber Tuesday.


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