Sec. 501(c)(4) regulations will be reproposed following outpouring of public comments

BY SALLY P. SCHREIBER, J.D.

The IRS received an overwhelming flood of comments in response to proposed regulations it issued last November on the rules governing the political activities of Sec. 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. As a result, the IRS announced that it will repropose the regulations, after taking the comments into account, and will not hold a public hearing on the new rules until they are reproposed. The regulations (REG-134417-13) were proposed to address, among other things, how much political campaign intervention a social welfare organization could engage in without jeopardizing its exempt status. (See here for prior coverage.)

To qualify for exempt status, Sec. 501(c)(4) requires that a social welfare organization must be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” The current final regulations, however, merely require that an organization operate “primarily for the promotion of social welfare” (Regs. Sec. 1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii)).

IRS mishandling of applications for exempt status under Sec. 501(c)(4) was the subject of much controversy last year, when it was revealed that the IRS had inappropriately singled out for scrutiny certain groups based on terms in their names, such as “tea party.”

According to an update posted on its website, the IRS received over 150,000 written comments on the proposed regulations, the most it has ever received for a proposed tax regulation.

Answering this unprecedented response, and “[c]onsistent with [its] standard rulemaking process,” the IRS says it intends to consider all those comments carefully and make any necessary changes, and then issue revised proposed regulations. Only then will it schedule a public hearing.

“Given the diversity of views expressed and the volume of substantive input, we have concluded that it would be more efficient and useful to hold a public hearing after we publish the revised proposed regulation,” the IRS said in its announcement. The original proposed regulations requested comments by Feb. 27, 2014, that would have been addressed at a public hearing that was never scheduled.
 
Sally P. Schreiber ( sschreiber@aicpa.org ) is a JofA senior editor.

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