Lewis Opening Statement at Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on Free Speech on Tax-Exempt College Campuses

Mar 2, 2016

“Good Morning.  I do not understand why we are here.  The Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee does not have jurisdiction over future legislation, over freedom of speech, or college curriculum or school resources. 

“On Monday, the Chair and I both received a letter from Georgetown University.  In the letter, Georgetown explains that it will revise its policy so that students like Mr. Atkins may engage in certain campaign activities on campus, without jeopardizing the tax-exempt status of Georgetown.  This hearing focuses on a soon-to-be resolved issue, and the Oversight Subcommittee does not have jurisdiction over the decades-long argument that certain colleges, their faculties or their students are biased towards either conservative or liberal thought. 

“Some of today’s witness testimony is better suited for the Education and Workforce Committee or the House Judiciary Committee, which held nearly an identical hearing on the same subject last June.  So I ask you, “What are we doing here?  What is the purpose of this hearing?”

“I will tell you what this hearing is not – it is not in the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee.  The witnesses should remember that our subcommittee’s jurisdiction does not extend to proposed changes to the tax code.  That is a matter for the full committee or the Tax Policy Subcommittee.  

“Consequently, I request that each and every witness directly address how their testimony relates specifically to a requirement of the current Internal Revenue Code.  I look forward to hearing the testimony from the Democratic witness - Professor Frances Hill.  She is a nationally recognized expert in tax-exempt law from the University of Miami.  Dr. Hill will explain the political campaign activity rules that apply to section 501(c)(3) organizations.  And she will detail why getting those rules right is a key concern for colleges and universities. 

“Finally, let me state what falls squarely within our Subcommittee’s jurisdiction – taxpayer rights. Last July, the Oversight Subcommittee Majority called on the IRS to “Put Taxpayers First”, but to date there has been no Subcommittee action, no hearing, and no progress.  Yesterday morning, Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate was on C-SPAN, she took call after call from Americans who are frustrated with taxpayer services.

“We could have held our first hearing on the progress of the current tax-filing season, or the impact of several years of significant budget cuts on IRS services, or the rising threat of identity fraud and cyber-attacks on our tax system.  Instead we are here for an issue that is not in this Subcommittee’s jurisdiction and blatantly ignores the needs, rights, and concerns of American taxpayers. 

“The Subcommittee Democrats are ready to roll up our sleeves and do the people’s work -- without politics and partisanship.  Let me be clear; we have plenty of work to do, and this is not it.   I yield back the balance of my time.”

###