Koch Industries is backing GOP legislation on the House floor this week to block the IRS from collecting information about donors to political nonprofits as part of their support for free speech and freedom of association, including anonymous advocacy, a representative for the business says.
Philip Ellender, president of government and public affairs for Koch Industries, told the Washington Examiner that the bill, authored by Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., "helps protect the American people, the right to freedom of association — protecting them from threats, from intimidation, from harassment because of their personal beliefs."
The legislation, the Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act, would prohibit the IRS from requiring tax-exempt organizations to disclose contributors' information in the Form 990 that they submit.
The House is scheduled to vote on the measure this week. Republicans say the prohibition is needed as a response to IRS targeting of conservatives for political scrutiny, and to prevent donor privacy. Although the donor information is not supposed to be released to the public, it has been in the past, including in a high-profile controversy in which donors to the National Organization for Marriage had their information exposed.
Democrats have charged that Roskam's bill would result in foreign donors influencing election outcomes through donations to political nonprofits, while also tilting the field in favor of big donors, such as Charles and David Koch. The brothers, billionaires who have contributed to Republican candidates and conservative groups, are often cited by Democrats as examples of undue corporate influence in elections and a prime reason for campaign finance reform.
But Ellender said that the Kochs' support for the legislation is part of a larger push to advocate free speech, and in particular anonymous speech, that does not necessarily benefit themselves. Efforts related to freedom of association are among the business' top priorities, he said, along with criminal justice reform and occupational licensing reform.
"Charles Koch has the courage to stand up for what he believes in and frankly he has the resources to protect himself," Ellender said, but others would be discouraged or intimidated by the death threats and harassment he receives. "The right to give anonymously is like the right to vote anonymously," he added.
Individuals should have the ability to give anonymously to nonprofits, he said. "Transparency's meant for the government."
The White House said Monday evening that it opposes the bill, warning that the bill would harm the IRS' ability to enforce tax laws and that it would reduce transparency.