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Will Congress fix this?

Keith Peacock, of Hainesport, holds a sign during a tea party rally protesting extra IRS scrutiny of their groups, Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Cherry Hill, N.J. Tea party activists waving flags and signs, singing patriotic songs and chanting anti-IRS slogans protested outside federal buildings across the country to protest the agency's extra scrutiny of conservative groups. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Here’s how Congress could fix the 501(c)(4) scandal. Congress needs to demonstrate how to non-intrusively measure social welfare. Because that’s what’s behind this whole mess – Congress’ decision to maintain this weird 501(c)(4) tax exemption for groups engaged primarily in social welfare.

Most of us would take “primarily” to mean more than 50 percent, so how do we calculate that?

We all agree it’s wrong to target groups for their politics, or to ask intrusive questions, like who are your donors, and what books do you read. But if that’s the WRONG way, what’s the RIGHT way? What do you do if you have an organization that is obviously involved in politics – because it’s campaigning for political candidates – but which is demanding a tax exemption by claiming it’s primarily engaged in social welfare?
What the IRS would have to do – and if anybody has a better idea, raise your hand – it would have to find out how each staff member of the organization is spending his or her time.

So agents would have to non-intrusively ask for time sheets, and then trust what they say – or assign an agent to non-intrusively spend a few weeks following the staff around.

Or, Congress could admit that “501(c)(4)” is a dumb rule and just repeal it. Then these groups could drop the Social Welfare charade, organize themselves as regular corporations – and avoid taxes the honest way, by hiring aggressive lawyers and clever accountants.

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