The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) acting on its own initiative, without legislative authorization, is considering "the necessity of issuing guidance that would clarify the application of the Internal Revenue Code to use of the Internet by [tax] exempt organizations. In short, the IRS wants to monitor and regulate free speech on the Internet.
Organizations may be held liable for the activities of other organizations over whom they have neither control or internal knowledge of operations. Organizations may also be held liable for the speech of individual comments made online at the website.
Tax-exempt (non-profit) organizations are required by law to restrict lobbying activities to a minimum, or lose their tax-exempt status. Those that take the IRS (h) election are allowed to allocate a small percentage of their revenues to lobbying activities.
Clarifying an intention to regulate speech, the IRS announcement includes many questions under consideration regarding regulation of the use of the Internet by non-profit, tax exempt organizations. These are a few:
* To what extent are statements made by subscribers to a forum, such as a listserv or newsgroup, attributable to an exempt organization that maintains the forum?
* Does providing a hyperlink on a charitable organization's website to another organization that engages in political campaign intervention result in per se prohibited political intervention?
* Does providing a hyperlink to the website of another organization that engages in lobbying activity constitute lobbying by a charitable organization?
* Unlike other publications of an exempt organization, a website may be modified on a daily basis. To what extent and by what means should an exempt organization maintain the information from prior versions of the organization's website?
The effect of IRS regulation and monitoring of Internet sites--no doubt with the threat of hefty fines for infringements--will seriously limit public discourse and freedom of speech. Even if the website is eventually found to be innocent of an IRS charge, damage to the organization will be extensive: in lawyer fees, temporary or long- term loss of the website, and energy directed away from operations to focus on securing exoneration.
Members of Congress are also concerned. Rep. Dick Armey chastised the IRS' request for comments saying, "The IRS has no business getting involved in whether a think tank has links on its website, or how often a charity's site is updated. The idea of turning the tax man into a net cop would have a chilling effect on free speech on the Internet" (Tech Law Journal, 10/26/00)
================================ Send public comments to: Internal Revenue Service 1111 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC 20224 Attn: Judith E. Kindell Regarding Document: IRS Announcement 2000-84, Dated October 16. DEADLINE: February 13, 2001. View IRS document at: http://www.techlawjournal.com/agencies/irs/internet/20001016.asp
The following article is the latest in a series of Op-ed articles written by LPM Executive Director Tim O'Brien and submitted to news outlets across the state for publication. This current article was published on November 30, 2000 in the Detroit Free Press and can be viewed on their web site at: http://www.freep.com/voices/columnists/eobri30_20001130.htm
The Libertarian Party of Michigan has hit a small bump on the road to freedom. On November 27 the Secretary of State's office certified the results of the most recent election -- and decertified the LP as a legally recognized, ballot-qualified, political party.
While George Bush and Al Gore chase each other around the courts nitpicking the jots and tittles of Florida election law, while hand-wringing media pundits blather on that the very fate of the republic is hanging by a chad because a few hundred Floridians can't seem to punch out a butterfly ballot, Michigan has at least partially disenfranchised over 130,000 people here who cast votes for any of the 115 Libertarian Party candidates.
The Libertarian option has now been eliminated entirely in Michigan because our ballot access law puts all of a political party's eggs in one "top-of-ticket" basket. In order to remain legally qualified to nominate candidates for public office a party's "principal candidate" -- defined as the one whose name is highest up on the ballot -- must garner votes equal to at least one percent of the votes cast for the winning candidate for secretary of state in the preceding election.
I have no idea how this particular standard came about. I suspect the process was the type to which Otto von Bismarck was referring when he observed that those who like sausage and laws ought not watch either being made.
In any case the rule means that LP presidential candidate, Harry Browne, needed to get at least 20,555 votes or the party's over. He didn't. And it is. The fact that more than 1.5 million votes were cast for other Libertarian candidates in Michigan is irrelevant.
Because of the pervasive misapprehension that ours is "a two party system" (constitutionally insupportable, but certainly a convenient mythology for the Democrats and Republicans to promote) voters are continually whipsawed with the admonition that backing anyone other than one of the major party candidates is "wasting their vote."
This in turn can make what is an otherwise vibrant political party with a substantial base of support vulnerable to being sentenced to death by legal rejection when voters opt to split their ticket in an effort to mitigate the damage of having one or the other of the old party candidates elected president.
This defensive voting has given rise to the all too common lament: "I didn't like either of them, but I had to vote for the lesser of two evils."
The problem, though probably inherent in a winner-take-all, plurality system, is greatly exacerbated by the closeness of the race between the old-party candidates. And the historic closeness of the most recent presidential contest significantly depressed the vote for all the alternatives.
Ralph Nader got 2% in Michigan -- sufficient to keep his Green Party on the ballot, but less than half what he was polling mere days before the election.
The Michigan Reform Party, as it turned out, was actually thrown a life preserver when Secretary of State (and Bush's Michigan campaign co-chair) Candice Miller denied Pat Buchanan a place on the ballot here. This dropped Reform's "Top-of-Ticket" race down to U.S. Senate where their candidate, though finishing fifth, still drew enough votes to meet the 20,555 minimum. Buchanan, despite a $12 million subsidy from taxpayers, didn't fare much better than Browne nationally, and would surely have lost the Reformers their place on the Michigan ballot.
Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin and U.S. Taxpayers Party nominee Howard Phillips both finished well out of the running for keeping their respective parties on the 2002 ballot.
Still, in spite of the setback in the presidential race, the Libertarian Party of Michigan is buoyed by its overall success, having fielded more than twice as many candidates as all the other "minor" parties combined. And most of these candidates trailed only their "major" party rivals, including Diane Barnes, the Libertarian candidate for State Board of Ed (the race that political analysts consider the true measure of any party's base of support) who garnered more than 127,000 votes. In fact only one of the party's nine statewide, partisan candidates did not meet the minimum vote threshold to maintain its ballot status -- presidential nominee, Harry Browne. Unfortunately, under Michigan election law his was the only race that counted.
Libertarians are a determined bunch who have built a political party to advance a principle rather than merely to serve as a bandwagon upon which some celebrity may perch a soapbox. The petition drive to get the Libertarian Party back on the ballot in time for the 2002 election will begin sometime next spring.
Maybe by the time that election actually takes place the Michigan legislature will have eliminated this misrepresentative "principal candidate" standard, so that any statewide race can satisfy the vote requirement to maintain a party's ballot status. Anyone seeking evidence of the dangers of placing all our faith in top-of-ticket politicians need look no further than Florida.
The 2001 LPM Winter Leadership Conference will be sponsored by the Ottawa County Libertarian Party and will be held at the Comfort Inn, 622 Allegan Street, Plainwell on Sunday, February 4, 2001. The event will run from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The Keynote Speaker will be Libertarian Party National Chair, Jim Lark. There will be a lunch available for $10.
ALL LPM activists should attend this event-- you don't have to hold a current "leadership" position. The Leadership Conference is an oppurtunity for LP leaders and activists to share ideas and learn together how best to build the Libertarian Party, elect Libertarians to office, and advance the cause of Liberty!
Individual affiliate officers will receive invitations in the mail soon, and are asked to please promote the event at their affiliate meetings.
In the meantime, mark your calendars and plan to meet us in Plainwell on Feb. 4, 2001!
For more information, contact Ben Steele III at 517-288-5616 or email@example.com or Jason Miller at 616-669-2851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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