Commentary: Redacted Legislator Names as IRS Protest


Our Center created its annual Freedom Index and legislator scorecard in Rhode Island as a means of informing citizens which legislators have voted to protect our freedoms and which have voted to further encroach upon our liberties. Perhaps no freedom is more sacred to Americans than the right to free speech. However, a coordinated national attack has been mounted that would limit our Constitutional right to openly and rigorously debate public policy and to hold accountable elected officials and candidates. Within the past year, the IRS proposed new regulations that would greatly restrict the ability of 501(c)(4) advocacy organizations to conduct such activity, regulations that threaten also to undercut the work of 501(c)(3) research organizations such as the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

The Freedom Index is intended as a tool to educate the people of Rhode Island about the activities of their government. However, under many circumstances, the proposed IRS regulations would redefine the publishing of legislator names on any kind of scorecard — such as our Freedom Index — as “political activity.”

As a symbol of protest against these draconian proposals to restrict the freedom of grassroots advocacy groups to engage in related analysis, our Center will initially publish its Freedom Index for the 2013 RI General Assembly session with the names of legislators redacted. We had already based the index on a reading of legislation without regard to how individual legislators voted. By redacting legislators names, we are taking the additional step of associating the results only with the electoral districts in whose names the actions are taken.

If the IRS does not want grassroots groups to call out legislators by name, then our Center — as our form of protest — will not name them – at least for the moment.

“A properly functioning democracy depends on an informed electorate,” said Thomas Jefferson. We agree, and our Center decries this attempt by the IRS to limit free speech, to shut down public debate, and to inhibit the vital process of providing educational information to the citizenry.

Mike Stenhouse

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