Consider this: The U.S. Senate rejected gun control legislation in April. Congress and the White House appear to have moved on to other major priorities like immigration. Yet, prominent senators, such as Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of the primary sponsors of the gun control bill, have vowed to push on, as has President Barack Obama. Under the Bright Lines proposal, how are the gun control groups that continue to call out members of Congress supposed to operate? After all, there is no “legislative vote or other major legislative activity” pending. Moreover, it’s unclear if gun control will even come up for another vote during those members’ current terms. Are the gun control ads currently running political intervention? And if so, why should they be?
If a group falls off one of the narrow planks masquerading as safe harbors, the proposal simply would revert back to a form of the IRS test that the project was supposed to fix. As Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to Obama, has written, “The Project ... leaves the reader with the hope that a new rule has sailed and left the facts and circumstances test to wave good-bye on the dock — only to discover that [it has] snuck into steerage and [is] ready to be summoned back on deck as needed.”
Even worse, the proposal would consider whether a group is focusing on “wedge issues” or using “political code words,” as well as the group’s own “factual credibility,” as part of the “facts and circumstances” test. As bad as its existing rule is, even the IRS doesn’t presently go so far as to weigh these inherently subjective factors.
Is the phrase “gun safety” “code” for the “wedge issue” of gun control? The Bright Lines Project would have the IRS determining these questions, and penalizing groups that get it wrong. Far from being a very bright solution, this is downright dangerous.
Eric Wang is a political law attorney and a senior fellow with the Center for Competitive Politics.