During President Trump’s State of the Union address, he called on Congress to work in a bipartisan manner on a number of key issues such as infrastructure, immigration, and criminal justice reform. While those are laudable goals, Congress will soon have in front of it an opportunity to work together on an issue that perhaps offers an easier path to bipartisan success: protecting nonprofits.
Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., recently introduced legislation that would bar the IRS from collecting Schedule B forms, as well as the “name, address, or other identifying information” of donors to 501(c) organizations, otherwise known as nonprofits.
One doesn’t need to look too far into America’s past to figure out why the IRS, or any other government agency, shouldn’t be collecting this private information.
Only last year, new revelations were still coming out about the behavior of the IRS during the Obama administration. The agency admitted that it targeted 36 Tea Party and other conservative groups between 2009 and 2012. A handful of liberal groups were also swept up in the effort.
Last year, the IRS apologized and admitted what its agents did was wrong. The apology came with a $3.5 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit last fall between the Trump administration and Tea Party groups that were snared by the IRS targeting, which took place during the Obama administration.
If the IRS cannot be trusted to deal honestly with potential nonprofits before receiving donors’ sensitive information, how can it be trusted to keep personal taxpayer information safe once the data is in the agency’s hands?
But the danger to this sensitive data doesn’t rest solely with the IRS. State agencies also pose a risk to nonprofit groups’ privacy.
Before Kamala Harris was a U.S. senator from California, she was the state’s attorney general. In 2013, her office requested the Schedule B forms of nonprofit groups across the state. Despite assurances that the information was needed to protect against “fraud” and that the state would safeguard the sensitive information with the utmost care, the personal information of thousands of people from across the country was leaked online.
Even when the government isn’t acting in a malicious fashion, simply reporting this information can cause the privacy of individuals to be destroyed.
Project Veritas, a 501(c)(3) organization, failed to redact the names of its donors when it submitted its Schedule B forms to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office. These documents were later posted online and subsequently published by the news media. While it’s clear that Project Veritas should have taken more care with supporters’ information, it’s unclear why this information needs to be provided to the government in the first place.
While Project Veritas and the Tea Party groups targeted by the IRS are on the right end of the political spectrum, groups on the left have just as much reason to be concerned. Do supporters of Black Lives Matter and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws really want to expose themselves to the same risks by requiring sensitive, personal information to be submitted to unelected bureaucrats?
Everyone should be able to agree that government agencies exist to protect and serve the public, not to use private information as a political weapon against groups fighting on behalf of causes that a particular administration doesn’t like.
Roskam’s bill would be a bipartisan step toward protecting everyone from government targeting and overreach.
Eric Peterson (@IllinoisEric89) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity.
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