After ten years, statements made about John Kerry and Hillary Clinton have returned to haunt a conservative group. Statements made by the Patrick Henry Center during the 2004 campaign about Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have been cited as reasons by the IRS to revoke its tax exempt status.
The Patrick Henry Center responded that critical statements made by its group could be open to interpretation, were not made in an open forum, and could not have played a role in elections in 2004 and afterward.
Although Clinton was not officially a candidate for president in 2004 or 2005, she did come under the umbrella of potential candidate. Being proposed as a candidate, in the eyes of the IRS, makes a person a candidate. At that point, no tax exempt foundation can engage in criticism against them.
This interpretation brings serious consequences to policy debate. Last week, some floated Kathleen Sebelius as a possible Democratic challenger in the Kansas US Senate race. For the past year, Sebelius served as the public face of the floundering Obamacare website. According to the IRS, the mere fact that some want her to run for office makes criticism of the former Cabinet secretary out of bounds.
Since then, Sebelius has downplayed notions of a Senate run. Still, the tax exempt foundations must remain careful. Has she really rejected a run, or is she playing "reluctant tribune?" Criticize now, and if Sebelius changes her mind, you lose your tax exempt status.
This issue comes up at the same time as another organization defends its speech before the US Supreme Court. The Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life organization, has challenged an Ohio law barring "false" political speech. Ohio's law, much like a similar federal statute revoked a long time ago, invites subjective interpretation of "truth" and "lies."
Laws intended to create boundaries for political speech and money that finances it only invite subjective and unfair interpretations. They also impede the flow of dialogue about some of the country's most important policy and public choices.