Controversial Speech and the Education of Voters

June 3, 2013
posted by Bob Bauer
No one questions that campaign finance law has struggled through multiple, agonized revisions in distinguishing issues from campaign speech and the discussion of campaign issues from advocacy for candidates or parties. The statute is little help; it speaks of the “purpose of influencing” an election,” 2 U.S.C. §431(8)(A)(i), and broader Commission glosses on the phrase, such as a test for whether a message was “electioneering” in content, eventually came to grief. The Supreme Court held the express advocacy line briefly, then gave in to a conception of the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy, and has since cast much of discussion into obsolescence by extending to corporations the right to make independent expenditures. Now tax policy-makers and tax law face pressure to work through the same issue, in limiting political intervention by 501(c)(4)s, and the results might be expected to be the same.

The IRS and “Bright Lines”

May 28, 2013
posted by Bob Bauer
The Bright Lines Project is a production of experienced tax law specialists seeking a clearer, more predictable test for “political intervention by 501(c)(4) organizations. In a detailed Drafting Committee Explanation, the team (including my partner Ezra Reese) lays out its proposed test and the rationale for it, and additional explanation of their goal appears in an op-ed written by Gary Bass and Beth Kingsley. The Bright Lines Project: Clarifying IRS Rules on Political Intervention (Interim Draft, May 23, 2013). What the Project authors have come up with is constructive and interesting, but this is the key question: does its utility lie in a fruitful application to the tasks the IRS faces, or in showing that even well-reasoned, thoughtful tests will bog the agency down in the political analysis—and therefore political resistance and controversy—that it is or should be trying to escape?