TO THE MEMBERS OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing the
interests of more than three million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state
and local chamber and industry associations, and dedicated to promoting, protecting, and
defending America’s free enterprise system, supports H.R. 5053, the “Preventing IRS Abuse and
Protecting Free Speech Act.” H.R. 5053 would serve as an important safeguard for
constitutionally protected free speech and provide tax-exempt organizations needed protection
from continued abuse by those who want to use the tax system as a bludgeon to silence the
voices of those with whom they disagree.
Free speech is a fundamental right of every American, transcending political ideals and
views on public policy, no matter the popularity (or lack thereof) of the voiced opinions. The
exercise of this indelible right should not leave the speaker subject to harassment, intimidation,
or retaliation by a governmental organization when its ideas do not align with or criticize those
who are in power.
The use of the tax system to intimidate speakers and limit their speech is very troubling.
To paraphrase Chief Justice John Marshall, the power to tax is the power to destroy. And, as we
have seen from the IRS’s actions regarding the Tea Party, the disclosure of donor information
does nothing more than place a target on the backs of those exercising their First Amendment
rights. In fact, according to a 2014 study conducted by the House Ways and Means Committee,
one in ten tea party donors were subject to IRS audits—about ten times the average.
H.R. 5053 would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prohibit the Secretary of
the Treasury from requiring that the identity of contributors to 501(c) organizations be included
in annual returns. The bill would help nonprofit groups from being intimidated into silence as a
result of an “accidental” disclosure by the IRS. This important change would help alleviate
governmental policing of associational beliefs and the collective exercise of those opinions
through the First Amendment.
The Chamber strongly supports H.R. 5053, opposes any hostile weakening amendments,
and urges the bill’s favorable consideration by the full House. The Chamber may include
votes on, or in relation to, this legislation in our annual How They Voted scorecard.
R. Bruce Josten