The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee passed legislation that would ban the Internal Revenue Service from inquiring the names of those who donate to tax-exempt groups. The bill has been supported by billionaire oil and gas moguls Charles and David Koch.
The bill, Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act, posits that requiring tax-exempt groups to disclose their donors to the IRS is unnecessary and a danger to their privacy, The Daily Caller reports.
While tax-exempt groups are not required to publicly declare their donors, they must disclose those names to the IRS.
Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, who also Chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight, sponsored the legislation.
“Tax-exempt groups should not be forced to expend precious resources on unnecessary documentation and tax administration rather than focusing on their charitable missions,” Roskam said, according to USA TODAY.
Critics point out that not all tax-exempt groups are charitable, but instead use their donations to fund and influence political elections.
The bill was supported by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which is both a political lobbyist group representing the Koch brothers and a tax-exempt group that has spent millions of dollars to finance lawmakers supported by the two billionaires.
“This bill is an important first step toward reaffirming Americans’ right to free speech while protecting them from threats and intimidation because of their personal beliefs,” said Freedom Partners chairman Mark Holden, according to The Huffington Post.
As justification for the legislation, republicans on the committee pointed to the IRS scandal that emerged in 2013, when it was discovered that the agency was disproportionately targeting conservative groups.
The Democrats on the committee unanimously slammed their Republican counterparts for supporting bill.
“It is no secret as to why they are working to keep donors a secret,” said Democratic Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan, who cited that three Republican-funding non-profit groups made up 51 percent of the campaign financing in the 2012 elections.
Despite resistance from Democratic House members, the bill passed by a vote of 23-15.
Fred Wertheimer of the campaign finance watchdog group Democracy 21 warned that this bill will allow foreign entities to contribute to U.S. elections, influencing American politics without accountability.
“What the House Republicans on the committee are doing is taking a major campaign-finance problem and making it worse,” Wertheimer said.