The Internal Revenue Service’s post-Citizens United approach to political activity by would-be tax-exempt organizations has threatened the financial health of the entire agency. Suffering from a siege mentality in the best of times, the IRS predictably and understandably responded to the asserted “scandal” by retreating into a shell of bureaucratic reshuffling, management mumbo-jumbo, and paper moving. A fresh cadre of senior management lacking relevant experience has overhauled the exempt-organization function and emphasized granting recognition of exemption now and (possibly) asking questions later. The new self-certification process of exemption for small charities could also be setting the agency up for the next debacle. There has never been a better time to apply for tax-exempt status or to push the boundaries of permissible activities.

Will the IRS’s decision to exile the Exempt Organization Division from Washington D.C. to Cincinnati remove the exempt-organization function from the glare of D.C.’s partisanship or instead stifle the effectiveness of the IRS’s role in charity and nonprofit oversight? Should the IRS even be the locus of regulation for political activity by tax-exempt organizations? While we await revised regulations on political activity by social welfare organizations (promised after the 2016 presidential election), the IRS has the responsibility to promptly and transparently air appropriate substantive standards.