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September 26, 2008

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

The New York Times reports: Defying a federal tax law they consider unjust, 33 ministers across the country will take to their pulpits this Sunday and publicly endorse a candidate for president.

They plan to then send copies of their sermons to the Internal Revenue Service, hoping to provoke a challenge to a law that bars religious organizations and other nonprofits that accept tax-deductible contributions from involvement in partisan political campaigns.

The protest, called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, was organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a consortium of Christian lawyers that fights for conservative religious and social causes. When the fund first announced the protest this year, it said it planned to have 50 ministers taking part. As of Thursday it said it had hundreds of volunteers, but had selected only 33 who were fully aware of the risks and benefits. ...

Experts in tax law say it is more likely that the Alliance Defense Fund and its lawyers will face legal sanctions than the ministers, who may simply receive warnings to avoid politicking in the future.

Three former I.R.S. officials, now lawyers in a Washington firm, recently sent a letter to the I.R.S.s Office of Professional Responsibility urging that the Alliance Defense Fund and its lawyers be investigated for inducing churches to engage in conduct designed to violate federal tax law in a direct and blatant matter. -- Ministers to Defy I.R.S. by Endorsing Candidates - NYTimes.com

September 8, 2008

Group of pastors will defy ban on endorsement-sermons

A Washington Post report begins: Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship. ...

Yet an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADF's "Pulpit Initiative" an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state.

Backed by three former top IRS officials, the group also wants the IRS to determine whether the nonprofit ADF is risking its own tax-exempt status by organizing an "inappropriate, unethical and illegal" series of political endorsements. -- Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted - washingtonpost.com

July 18, 2008

Scotland: educational charity became involved in politics, report says

The Herald reports: The think tank set up in memory of the late Labour leader John Smith broke the laws governing charities by getting involved in party politics, the Charity Commission has ruled.

The commission, which completed a 17-month investigation into the organisation closely linked to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, voiced concern that the Smith Institute strayed too far from its educational remit by hosting events at 11 Downing Street and by issuing material of a party political nature.

However, the commission concluded that there was "no evidence" to support an allegation that Mr Brown, who was chancellor during the period in question, used the institute to "further his political aspirations". ...

The report found a number of instances "where the balance and neutrality of the institute's work were compromised by a party political association". -- John Smith Institute Broke Charity Laws On Political Support (from The Herald )

July 2, 2008

DOJ to go after 527s

The Swamp reports: In a letter to a campaign finance watchdog group, the Justice Department says it plans to make cracking down on so-called 527 groups a priority this election cycle.

The department was responding to an inquiry from Democracy 21, a bipartisan nonprofit that presses for aggressive enforcement of campaign finance laws.

Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer wrote to the department in May, noting that after the 2004 presidential election, the Federal Election Commission took civil enforcement actions against a number of 527 groups for illegally spending soft money to influence that election. The FEC found that four 527 groups alone had made massive illegal soft money expenditures totaling more than $200 million to influence the 2004 presidential campaign. ...

In response to Wertheimer's letter, Justice Department official John C. Keeney wrote:

The investigation and prosecution of knowing and willful violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act are priorities of this Department. Please be assured that we intend to vigorously pursue instances where individuals or organizations knowingly and intentionally violate the clear commands of this important statute.

Should you or your organization come into possession of information indicating that such intentional violations of established and known statutory duties and prohibitions have occurred, you should bring that information to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. -- The Swamp: DOJ to pursue rogue 527 groups

June 24, 2008

Florida: Internet evangelist will sue IRS over political/religious speech

The Caucus blog of the NY Times reports: Bill Keller, an evangelist based in Florida, runs Liveprayer.com, an Internet call-in program. Because he receives a government tax exemption, he is prohibited by law from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.

But during the Republican primary battle, Mr. Keller proclaimed to his followers and the news media that a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Satan.

Now Mr. Keller says he is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service for involvement in partisan politics.

He asserts that his denunciations of Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is a Mormon, were religious and not political. ...

Mr. Stanley said the organization planned to send tapes of the sermons to the I.R.S., and then sue the agency for inhibiting free speech and the free exercise of religion when an investigation is opened. -- Challenging the I.R.S. - The Caucus - Politics - New York Times Blog

June 17, 2008

McCain-affiliated Reform Institute may have broken tax laws

The Chicago Tribune reports: Allies of Sen. John McCain opened a Washington think tank in 2001 to promote transparency and accountability in government, a signature issue for the Arizona Republican after his presidential primary loss to George W. Bush.

For the next seven years, the non-profit Reform Institute churned out position papers and offered expert testimony on campaign finance reform, the need for bipartisanship and other issues, frequently supporting McCain s positions.

But behind the scenes, the institute s practices have at times arguably been at odds with its reformist message, and with McCain s political identity as an enemy of special interests. In fact, the Reform Institute has stretched and may have broken rules governing charitable organizations, according to experts on tax law.

The institute has twice omitted the NAMEs of donors in IRS filings. IRS rules require that charities identify their contributors to government regulators. -- Group muddies McCain message -- chicagotribune.com

June 12, 2008

Minnesota pastor wants to throw the Good Book at the IRS

The Religion Clause blog reports: In Warroad, Minnesota, pastor Gus Booth, a delegate to the Republican National Convention, is openly challenging IRS restrictions on church involvement in political campaigns. In May, Booth delivered a sermon telling his congregation not to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama because of their positions on abortion. Two weeks later Booth e-mailed Americans United for Separation of Church and State saying:

I am writing you to let you know that I preached a sermon in my church on Sunday, May 18, 2008, that specifically addressed the current candidates for President in the light of the Bible. As you can see from the attached newspaper article, I specifically made recommendations as to who a Christian should vote for.

I have read in the past about how you have a campaign to intimidate churches into silence when it comes to speaking about candidates for office. I am letting you know that I will not be intimidated into silence when I believe that God wants me to address the great moral issues of the day, including who will be our next national leader. -- Religion Clause: Minnesota Pastor Challenges IRS Limits On Church Political Involvement

May 21, 2008

IRS clears Southern Baptist minister's endorsement of Huckabee

The Associated Baptist Press reports: Southern Baptist pastor-personality Wiley Drake did not violate tax law by using his churchs letterhead or his radio show to endorse Mike Huckabee, he announced May 18.

Drake, pastor of the 75-member First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., told church members and visitors that the government had cleared the congregation. An IRS letter that Drake provided to local media outlets said that, based on all the facts and circumstances of the endorsements, the IRS has concluded that Buena Park First Southern Baptist Church did not engage in prohibited political campaign intervention in violation of the requirements of [Internal Revenue Code] Section 501(c)(3).

Federal tax law prevents churches and similar tax-exempt organizations from endorsing candidates or parties in elections. If they do so, they risk losing their tax exemption altogether. ...

But the IRS letter said that both endorsements were more properly understood as Drakes individual endorsements rather than official church actions. The press release, it noted, was sent from Drakes personal account and did not go out to church members. It listed his position as pastor for identification purposes, the letter said, and the endorsement was not authorized or approved by the church. In addition, it claimed, no church resources were utilized in preparing or sending the e-mail.

On the radio-show endorsement, the letter said the Wiley Drake Show is a separate legal entity from the church, and the church doesnt own, financially support, sponsor or have any legal rights to the show. It said Drake uses his personal mobile phone to call the organization (Crusade Radio) through which the show is broadcast, and that he may do so while at the church on his break or when away from the church building. -- Wiley Drake cleared in IRS probe, but vows further endorsement

IRS finally clears UCC for Obama speech

The On Faith blog of the Washington Post reports:

Today the United Church of Christ, the national church to which presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama belongs, announced that the Internal Revenue Service has found that the activity about which we had concern did not constitute a violation of the requirements of the requirements of section 501(c)(3)."

The "concern" that apparently launched the investigation stemmed from a speech Senator Obama gave to the UCC General Synod, the all-church gathering held every two years, during the church's fiftieth anniversary celebration.

In other words, the UCC received a complete and clean review. ...

Despite the fact that the church had invited Obama to speak before he became a candidate for President, and despite the fact that UCC Nationwide Special Counsel Donald C. Clark, Esq., had carefully prepared the church leadership with the legal guidelines they needed to follow, the IRS launched an investigation. ...

In addition, the IRS waited more than six months, until Senator Obama was emerging as a possible front-runner, to investigate. -- Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite: IRS Clears Obama s Church - On Faith at washingtonpost.com

May 9, 2008

Preaching Truth (or some version of it) to Power (aka the IRS)

The Wall Street Journal reports: A conservative legal-advocacy group is enlisting ministers to use their pulpits to preach about election candidates this September, defying a tax law that bars churches from engaging in politics.

Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., nonprofit, is hoping at least one sermon will prompt the Internal Revenue Service to investigate, sparking a court battle that could get the tax provision declared unconstitutional. Alliance lawyers represent churches in disputes with the IRS over alleged partisan activity.

The action marks the latest attempt by a conservative organization to help clergy harness their congregations to sway elections. The protest is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 28, a little more than a month before the general election, in a year when religious concerns and preachers have been a regular part of the political debate. ...

The section of the tax code barring nonprofits from intervening in political campaigns has long frustrated clergy. Many ministers consider the provision an inappropriate government intrusion, blocking the duty of clergy to advise congregants.

Alliance fund staff hopes 40 or 50 houses of worship will take part in the action, including clerics from liberal-leaning congregations. About 80 ministers have expressed interest, including one Catholic priest, says Erik Stanley, the Alliance's senior legal counsel. -- Pastors May Defy IRS Gag Rule - WSJ.com

February 16, 2008

California: politics, death, taxes

The Los Angeles Times reports: For the second time in six months, Buena Park pastor Wiley S. Drake has called on his followers to pray for the demise of leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Last week, Drake learned that the IRS had launched an investigation into his endorsement of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee s presidential bid, an inquiry that Americans United had urged.

The endorsement was written on church letterhead and announced during a church- affiliated Internet radio show. As tax-exempt organizations, churches are barred from campaigning for candidates. IRS officials declined to comment on the matter, citing privacy regulations.

In an e-mail Thursday, Drake urged action against Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union.

As he had in August, Drake quoted Psalm 109, which speaks of wicked and deceitful people and asks God to let such a person s days be few and let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. -- Pastor again asks prayers for demise of group s leaders - Los Angeles Times

September 24, 2007

California: IRS drops investigation of All Saints Episcopal Church

The Los Angeles Times reports: The Internal Revenue Service has told a prominent Pasadena church that it has ended its lengthy investigation into a 2004 antiwar sermon, church leaders said Sunday.

But the agency wrote in its letter to All Saints Episcopal Church that officials still considered the sermon to have been illegal, prompting the church to seek clarification, a corrected record and an apology from the IRS, the church's rector told standing-room-only crowds of parishioners at Sunday's services.

The church also has asked the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, to investigate allegations that officials from the Justice Department had become involved in the matter, raising concerns that the investigation was politically motivated. ...

Although the church no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status, All Saints has "no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process," the rector said. He said the church would continue its struggle with the IRS, which he said so far had cost the 3,500-member congregation about $200,000. -- Pasadena church wants apology from IRS - Los Angeles Times

June 2, 2007

IRS issues Rev.Ruling for 501(c)(3)s and election year activities

Nonprofit Advocacy Network announces: The IRS today released binding guidance in Revenue Ruling 2007-41 for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations regarding 501(c)(3) election year activities. Though similar to the February 2006 Fact Sheet released by the IRS (Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations) there are some differences. It is important to note that today's Revenue Ruling provides precedential guidance on issues covered in the February 2006 Fact Sheet. Issues covered in the Fact Sheet and Revenue Ruling include voter guides, public forums, voter education, get-out-the vote drives, individual activities by organization leaders, candidate appearances and forums, issue advocacy, and business activities. To view a copy of this Revenue Ruling click here.

To sign up for Alliance for Justice newsletters and bulletins, go here.

June 1, 2007

A vote for Satan

The Washington Post reports: Florida evangelist Bill Keller says he was making a spiritual -- not political -- statement when he warned the 2.4 million subscribers to his Internet prayer ministry that "if you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!"

But the Washington-based advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State says the Internal Revenue Service should revoke the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status of Bill Keller Ministries, nonetheless.

Keller, 49, who has a call-in show on a Tampa television station and a Web site called Liveprayer.com, on May 11 sent out a "daily devotional" that called Romney "an unabashed and proud member of the Mormon cult founded by a murdering polygamist pedophile named Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago." If the former Massachusetts governor wins the GOP nomination and the presidency, Keller's message added, it will "ultimately lead millions of souls to the eternal flames of hell." -- Separation of Church and State and Tax Exemptions

April 11, 2007

Public Citizen asks IRS and FEC to bring insecuity to Americans for Job Security

From a Public Citizen press release:
Public Citizen today filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that the nonprofit group Americans for Job Security (AJS) has violated both the terms of its tax status and federal election law. The complaints, which were also sent to congressional committee leadership as part of a request for an investigation into the issue, ask the IRS to revoke the groups tax status and the FEC to fine the group for election law violations.

Americans for Job Security is registered under Section 501(c)(6) of the tax code, the category reserved for business leagues and trade associations. Groups that are registered under this section are prohibited from engaging in efforts to influence elections as their primary purpose. But AJS, which maintains no Web site and appears to have only one paid employee, spends millions of dollars on advertisements to influence elections without appearing to engage in any other substantive efforts, according to the complaint. While many groups registered under 501(c) of the tax code participate in some level of electioneering activity and others may have violated the law, Public Citizen has identified AJS as one of the most egregious offenders. In response, Public Citizen is asking that the IRS revoke AJSs 501(c) status, collect back taxes for its undeclared electioneering activities and require it to pay penalties for violating its tax-exempt status.

The same page has a link to the complaint.

October 18, 2006

Minnesota: pastor endorses candidate from the pulpit

AP reports: A watchdog group filed a complaint Tuesday with the IRS against a Minnesota church, claiming the pastor violated the church's tax-exempt status by endorsing Republican congressional candidate Michele Bachmann.

An official from the church, Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Minn., said Tuesday that the pastor misunderstood IRS guidelines and promised it wouldn't happen again. But the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it would not rescind the complaint. ...

When he introduced Bachmann, Pastor Mac Hammond said that the church could not endorse any candidate.

"But I can tell you, personally, that I'm going to vote for Michele Bachmann," he said to laughter and cheering, "because I've come to know her, what she stands for, and I want her to share her testimony with you tonight." -- Pastor endorsement angers watchdog group - Yahoo! News

September 23, 2006

Evangelical leaders campaigning for GOP

The Los Angeles Times reports: Worried that discontent among conservatives and the lack of a clear standard-bearer to follow President Bush might cost Republicans in November, top evangelical leaders pleaded with their followers Friday to put aside frustrations and turn out for GOP candidates.

The appeals, coming on the opening day of a weekend-long rally and strategy conference, included entreaties to pastors to use their pulpits on behalf of the social conservative agenda. ...

The Values Voter Summit which will include appearances by several potential GOP presidential hopefuls underscores evangelicals' growing power in national politics. The agenda serves as a road map of their tactics for energizing voters, including sessions on fighting gay marriage, attacking Hollywood liberalism and denouncing embryonic stem-cell research.

Kicking off the conference Friday, Dobson joined other evangelical chieftains in lobbying pastors to feel more free to advocate for conservative causes from the pulpit despite recent investigations by the Internal Revenue Service into alleged partisan activities by churches. One such investigation has ensnared the liberal All Saints Church in Pasadena, over a sermon denouncing the Iraq war shortly before the 2004 election. -- Tactic Uses Pulpits to Power the GOP - Los Angeles Times

September 22, 2006

California: All Saint's Episcopal Church will defy IRS subpoena

The New York Times reports: A California church under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service for possible violations of laws against political activities by churches has denied the agencys request for documents.

The decision forces the I.R.S. either to drop the case or to ask the Justice Department to take the church, All Saints Episcopal Church, in Pasadena, to court. The agency could also revoke the churchs tax exemption, but legal experts said that was unlikely.

The church said it regarded an I.R.S. investigation of an antiwar sermon delivered by the churchs former rector on the Sunday before the 2004 election as an attack on freedom of speech and religion.

We have nothing to hide, but there are principles here we think we need to uphold, said Robert A. Long, the lay leader, or senior warden, of All Saints.

Mr. Long said the 26 members of the churchs vestry, or governing body, had voted unanimously to decline to comply with two formal requests, called administrative summonses, for documents, testimony and other information that it received from the I.R.S. last Friday. -- I.R.S. Inquiry Into Sermon Is Challenged by Church - New York Times

September 20, 2006

California: church may resist IRS subpoena

The Los Angeles Times reports: A liberal Pasadena church facing an IRS investigation over alleged politicking sounded a defiant note Sunday, with its leaders and many congregants saying the probe amounted to an assault on their constitutional rights and that they were inclined to defy the agency's request for documents.

"These people are offended," said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, after delivering an impassioned sermon about the investigation to a standing-room-only crowd of about 900. "Freedom of speech and freedom of religion have been assaulted by this act of the IRS, and I think my people want to be heard in court."

Bacon said he would consult with attorneys and church officials before deciding a course of action but that the vast majority of parishioners with whom he spoke Sunday thought the church should resist a summons demanding copies of newsletters, e-mails and other records.

"I believe we should respectfully decline to produce the documents," said Cathy Shearon, an All Saints parishioner "off and on" for more than 20 years. "Being passive plays into the culture of oppression." -- Pasadena Church May Fight IRS Summons - Los Angeles Times

September 18, 2006

IRS reviewing churches' political activity

The New York Times reports: With midterm elections less than two months away, Christian conservatives are enlisting churches in eight battleground states to register voters, gather crowds for rallies and distribute voters guides comparing the candidates stands on issues that conservatives consider family values.

This election year, however, the religious conservatives are facing resistance from newly invigorated religious liberals and moderates who are creating their own voters guides and are organizing events designed to challenge the conservatives definition of values.

Both religious flanks are looking nervously over their shoulders at the Internal Revenue Service, which this year announced a renewed effort to enforce laws that limit churches and charities from involvement in partisan political campaigns. ...

The I.R.S. issued a report in February that said nearly half of the 110 tax-exempt organizations it investigated after the 2004 elections for improper political activity were churches. Of the 40 churches that the I.R.S. had finished investigating, 37 were found to have violated the law. These churches were given warnings or penalized with excise taxes and, although none lost their tax exemptions, the I.R.S. is still investigating seven more cases against churches. -- I.R.S. Eyes Religious Groups as More Enter Election Fray - New York Times

September 17, 2006

California: IRS demands documents and emails from church

AP reports: The Internal Revenue Service has ordered a prominent liberal church to turn over documents and e-mails it produced during the 2004 election year that contain references to political candidates.

The IRS is investigating whether All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena violated the federal tax code when its former rector, Rev. George F. Regas, delivered an anti-war sermon on the eve of the last presidential election.

Tax-exempt organizations are barred from intervening in political campaigns and elections, and the church could lose its tax-exempt status.

Rev. Ed Bacon received a summons Thursday ordering the church to present any politically charged sermons, newsletters and electronic communications by Sept 29. -- IRS investigating liberal Calif. church - Yahoo! News

Comment: The church ought to turn over the Bibles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the hymnal, too.

September 1, 2006

IRS decides NAACP did not engage in partisan activities

The Washington Post reports: Nearly two years after a controversial decision to investigate the NAACP for criticizing President Bush during the 2004 presidential campaign, the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that the remarks did not violate the group's tax-exempt status.

In a letter released yesterday by the NAACP, the IRS said the group, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, "continued to qualify" as tax-exempt. ...

The commissioner said the investigation of the NAACP was undertaken because two congressional leaders, whom he declined to name, requested it. They were unhappy because Bond criticized Bush in a speech in July 2004, saying his administration preached racial neutrality and practiced racial division.

"They write a new constitution of Iraq and they ignore the Constitution at home," Bond said.

After filing four freedom-of-information requests, NAACP lawyers discovered that far more than two members of Congress called for an investigation and that all were Republicans. -- IRS Ends 2-Year Probe Of NAACP's Tax Status

April 25, 2006

Ohio: are the charges to the IRS just "persecution"

The Canton Repository reported on 8 April regarding the complaint to the IRS: “People certainly have the right to disagree and to debate,” World Harvest spokesman Giles Hudson said. “But for this group — especially members of the clergy — to engage in outright falsehoods for the sake of a political agenda is unconscionable.”

Among the mistakes cited by World Harvest Church and Pastor Rod Parsley:

—An allegation that Parsley will feature Blackwell in upcoming “Ohio for Jesus” radio spots.

Parsley has no such radio campaign planned, and Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo told The Associated Press Friday that Blackwell won’t be participating in any such spots.

—An allegation that Parsley has escorted and endorsed Blackwell at campaign events.

The complaint doesn’t cite any such campaign events regarding Blackwell’s run for governor, though it does refer to events Parsley held — at which Blackwell spoke — in favor of a 2004 gay marriage ban.

—An allegation that Parsley plans to target conservative voters with a voter registration drive.

Parsley’s Reformation Ohio project has a goal of registering 400,000 new voters but the complaint does not provide evidence that Parsley is seeking only conservatives. -- cantonrep.com

Thanks to Brad Smith for encouraging me to look for this older story."

Ohio: is the IRS dragging its feet on investigation of churches supporting Blackwell?

The Washington Post reports: In a challenge to the ethics of conservative Ohio religious leaders and the fairness of the Internal Revenue Service, a group of 56 clergy members contends that two churches have gone too far in supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

Two complaints filed with the tax agency say that the large Columbus area churches, active in President Bush's narrow Ohio win in 2004, violated their tax-exempt status by pushing the candidacy of J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is the secretary of state and the favored candidate of Ohio's religious right. ...

"You have flagrant intervention continuing and no indication of IRS activity," said Marcus Owens, a lawyer for the group and former director of the IRS office that regulates tax-exempt organizations. He considers the evidence of wrongdoing "pretty overwhelming" and suspects favoritism, which tax agency officials deny.

Lois Lerner, director of the agency's exempt organizations division, said: "The IRS is interested in enforcing the rules equally against all organizations regardless of whatever political stripe they are. Political appointees are not at all involved in deciding which cases we are going to do." ...

An April complaint, signed by 56 clergy members, said that Blackwell appeared more than two dozen times at meetings and rallies held by the churches, their leaders or affiliates. Other candidates were not invited or did not attend, according to the complaint.

In addition, the document said that Blackwell, in his fourth year as secretary of state, took three flights to events opposing same-sex marriage in 2004 aboard World Harvest Church's private plane. He reimbursed the church $1,000. The complaint also said Blackwell would be featured in "Ohio for Jesus" radio advertisements. World Harvest officials later confirmed that Blackwell once flew aboard the World Harvest plane to Texas, which the statement described as "not exactly a popular campaign stop for Ohio candidates." A church statement branded the complaint the work of "left-leaning clergy," a characterization the clergy members dispute. -- Ohio Churches' Political Activities Challenged

April 7, 2006

Why is the IRS not investigating 2 Ohio churches

The New York Times reports: A group of religious leaders accused the Internal Revenue Service yesterday of playing politics by ignoring its complaint that two large churches in Ohio are engaging in what it says are political activities, in violation of the tax code.

In a letter to Commissioner Mark W. Everson, the clergy members cited reports of political events involving Fairfield Christian Church in Fairfield and World Harvest Church in Columbus and groups affiliated with them that have occurred or been disclosed since they raised the issue in January.

The group argues that the churches may be violating prohibitions on political activities by charities and other tax-exempt organizations and has asked the I.R.S. to audit their political activities.

The group often notes that the agency is investigating All Saints Church, a large liberal Episcopal church in Pasadena, Calif., over a sermon in 2004 that imagined a debate among Jesus, President Bush and Senator John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential candidate, and asks why the agency has not begun a similar audit of the two Ohio churches, which are conservative. -- Church Group Calls I.R.S. Unfair on Political Violations of Tax Code - New York Times

March 23, 2006

Pennsylvania: Pastor's Network responds to CREW complaint

Let Freedom Ring, Inc. announces: The sponsor of the Pennsylvania Pastor’s Network, Let Freedom Ring, Inc., called yesterday’s complaint against it and others over a Pastors Convocation earlier this month filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (“CREW”) ‘groundless’ and is confident that “this IRS complaint filed by CREW today will be dismissed just as the last IRS complaint CREW filed against us was dismissed.”

Colin Hanna, President of Let Freedom Ring, sponsor of the Pennsylvania Pastor’s Network (“PPN”) said, “CREW is a partisan front group masquerading as a non-partisan, non-political organization. The complaint filed today is no different from the one CREW filed against Let Freedom Ring for the work we did in 2004. CREW claimed then (as now) that we were violating the law – the IRS agreed with us that we had not violated the law by informing pastors and religious leaders of their rights under the First Amendment to be involved in their community’s public policy debate(s), to educate them about issues of concern to people of faith, to conduct non-partisan voter registration drives and to exercise their rights as citizens. We and all our participants have followed and will continue to follow both the letter and spirit of the law.” -- 'Let Freedom Ring' Calls Washington Group's Latest Harassment of Religious Conservatives Baseless

March 22, 2006

Pennsylvania: CREW files complaint against Pastors Network

CREW announces: Earlier today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) alleging that a get-out-the-vote training session offered by the Pennsylvania Pastors Network (PPN) may have violated IRS rules governing charities.

The PPN is organized by four conservative organizations: Let Freedom Ring, the Pennsylvania Family Institute, the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, and the Urban Family Council. Let Freedom Ring is a section 501(c)(4) organization and the Pro-Life Federation has section 501(c)(4) and section 501(c)(3) components, but the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the Urban Family Council are both section 501(c)(3) organizations. IRS law explicitly prohibits section 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in political activities.

According to an article by David D. Kirkpatrick appearing in the March 21, 2006 edition of The New York Times, the first training get-out-the-vote session set up by the Pennsylvania Pastors Network took place on March 6, 2006 and included a videotaped message from Senator and candidate for the United States Senate, Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). According to the article, after the videotape of Sen. Santorum was played, copies of the Senator's book, "It Takes a Family," were handed out. -- U.S. Newswire : Releases : "CREW Files IRS Complaint Against PA Pastors..."

March 21, 2006

Pennsylvania: Pastors Network may draw IRS scrutiny

The New York Times reports: Weeks after the Internal Revenue Service announced a crackdown on political activities by churches and other tax-exempt organizations, a coalition of nonprofit conservative groups is holding training sessions to enlist Pennsylvania pastors in turning out voters for the November elections.

Experts in tax law said the sessions, organized by four groups as the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, could test the promises by the tax agency to step up enforcement of the law that prohibits such activity by exempt organizations.

Such a test could define the boundaries for churches and other groups.

Although the tax agency has often overlooked political activity by churches, it has repeatedly warned the clergy and religious groups that it intends to enforce its rules with new vigor this year, in part to correct what it considers to have been too much political intervention by churches and charities in 2004.

The first training session, on March 6 in Valley Forge, included a videotaped message from a single candidate, Senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who faces a difficult re-election fight. -- Pastors' Get-Out-the-Vote Training Could Test Tax Rules - New York Times

March 17, 2006

House GOP proposes putting 527's under campaign finance restrictions on contributions

The Washington Post reports: House Republican leaders proposed changes in lobbying laws yesterday that would include a crackdown on independent, big-money committees that heavily aided Democrats in the 2004 elections. ...

As part of the House GOP proposals, "527" organizations that operate independently of the political parties would no longer be allowed to collect unlimited sums from individuals. Democratic-leaning 527s have accepted tens of millions of dollars from such wealthy backers as investor George Soros and insurance mogul Peter B. Lewis.

Instead, the groups would be governed by federal campaign finance laws that would restrict such giving to a total of $30,000 from individuals per year. By contrast, during the 2004 election cycle, Soros gave $27 million and Lewis gave nearly $24 million to Democratic-oriented 527 groups, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a nonpartisan research company.

Republicans were excited at the prospect of crippling these groups. "We strongly commend these efforts as an important step towards much-needed reform," said a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Democrats spoke out against the proposal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) "does not personally support additional restrictions on 527 contributions," a Pelosi spokeswoman said. -- GOP Seeks Curbs On '527' Groups

March 15, 2006

House leadership wants to regulate 527's in the lobbying reform bill

The New York Times reports: After weeks of internal wrangling over a measure to tighten lobbying laws, the House Republican leadership decided Tuesday night to back a measure that would temporarily bar lawmakers from privately financed trips and require lobbyists to disclose their gifts to lawmakers. ...

The officials also said the lawmakers discussed placing limits on political advocacy groups, or 527's, that are allowed to receive unlimited donations from individuals. But they were not certain if such limits would be included in the final legislative package.

Earlier Tuesday, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, told reporters the leaders would have a lobbying law package by the end of the week. -- House Leaders Plan to Support Measure Restricting Lobbying

March 3, 2006

Maryland: 100 churches make campaign contributions

Tribune News Services reports: Campaign finance reports show that more than 100 churches in Maryland have gone against federal tax law by making campaign contributions to political candidates in recent years.

Across Maryland, at least 115 churches have given to about 40 candidates of both major parties since 2000, according to a review by The Sun newspaper, Baltimore. Although the donations are generally small and sporadic, they go against Internal Revenue Service regulations that prohibit churches from advocating for specific political candidates.

Churches that give to candidates can face revocation of their tax-exempt status or a 10 percent excise tax on the contributions, according to the IRS. -- Chicago Tribune | Churches break IRS rule on gifts

February 28, 2006

Texas: Texans for Public Justice cliams IRS probe was "abuse"

The Dallas Morning News reports: The Austin nonprofit group whose complaint sparked U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's indictment on campaign finance charges accused one of his allies of dirty tricks, saying Monday that U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson of Plano used his influence to prompt a tax audit.

"It's intimidation," said Craig McDonald, founder and director of Texans for Public Justice, which was cleared this month after a 13-month inquiry into whether it violated a ban on partisan activity by tax-exempt groups. "The IRS has every right to audit nonprofit organizations, but we think this was an abuse."

Mr. Johnson, who serves on the House tax-writing committee that oversees the IRS, wrote the agency's commissioner in mid-2004 urging him to open an inquiry.

"Anytime I have reason to believe someone may be breaking the law, I have an obligation to report it to the responsible authorities," he said.

Mr. McDonald's group drew Republican ire in March 2003, when it alleged that a DeLay-founded committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, had illegally raised and spent $600,000 during the 2002 state legislative campaigns. The GOP won control of the state House and subsequently redrew congressional districts at Mr. DeLay's urging. -- Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Politics: Local

January 16, 2006

Ohio: religious group seeks IRS investigation of 2 Ohio churches

The New York Times reports: A group of religious leaders has sent a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation of two large churches in Ohio that they say are improperly campaigning on behalf of a conservative Republican running for governor.

In their complaint, the clergy members contend that the two Columbus-area churches, Fairfield Christian Church and the World Harvest Church, which were widely credited with getting out the Ohio vote for President Bush in 2004, have allowed their facilities to be used by Republican organizations, promoted the candidate, J. Kenneth Blackwell, among their members and otherwise violated prohibitions on political activity by tax-exempt groups.

They are asking the I.R.S. to examine whether the churches' tax exemptions should be revoked and are requesting that Mark W. Everson, the federal tax commissioner, seek an injunction to stop what they consider improper activities.

Both churches denied that any of their activities violated limitations on nonprofit political activity. "We endorse values, but not candidates," said the Rev. Russell Johnson, Fairfield's leader. -- Group Seeks I.R.S. Inquiry of Two Ohio Churches - New York Times

November 8, 2005

California: IRS investigating church over sermon

The Los Angeles Times reports: The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster." -- Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning - Los Angeles Times

October 26, 2005

States taking a look at 527 groups

Stateline.org reports: State and federal regulators are cracking down on nonprofit political groups, so-called 527s, suspected of circumventing state campaign finance laws.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan political watchdog group, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which backs state-level GOP candidates, is drawing scrutiny for its role in the 2004 Pennsylvania attorney general’s race. The RSLC also has been fined $20,000 in Louisiana and $10,000 in North Carolina, according to the Center.

In a new report, it said Minnesota regulators had levied a record $400,000 penalty against a Democratic political organization that failed to file proper state disclosure forms. And an Arizona nonprofit agreed to disband this year after a nearly year-long battle with state campaign finance officials who fined the group $5,000, the Center said.

It said an audit by the Internal Revenue Service estimates that more than 30 percent of such groups are improperly registered as nonprofit organizations. The IRS is planning to investigate all similar state-level political groups, which are exempt from federal limits on campaign contributions and spending, and make sure they are following state limits. -- 527s under scrutiny from states

June 4, 2005

Texas: Gov. Perry and church stage a campaign event (?)

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports: Democrats and a group dedicated to keeping religion out of politics are protesting Gov. Rick Perry's plans to use a Fort Worth Christian school to sign bills aimed at cracking down on abortion and gay marriage.

On Thursday, the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State called on Perry to cancel plans for the weekend bill signing or risk jeopardizing the tax-exempt status of the school and the church that oversees it.

"This is an absolutely grotesque misuse of the church to serve any politician's political interests. That's why we urge him to drop the whole idea," said Barry Lynn, director of Americans United. "If we're convinced that he has no possibility of changing his mind ... we will file a complaint with the IRS." ...

News of the bill-signing ceremony broke earlier this week when the Star-Telegram received an e-mail that originated from Perry's re-election campaign.

It said the Republican governor would stage a ceremony at Calvary Cathedral in Fort Worth on Sunday to sign into law a bill requiring that minors receive written permission from their parents before receiving an abortion.

He'll also sign the gay marriage proposition even though it's just a formality, because only voters can amend the Constitution. -- Star-Telegram | 06/03/2005 | Plans for bill signing draw protests

January 13, 2005

North Carolina: non-profits and political dinners

The Rocky Mount Telegram reports: The accountant got a tense call from a client Wednesday morning.

Lisa Boomsma, a Rocky Mount accountant who handles some area nonprofit organizations, said one of her clients had bought tickets to the Edgecombe-Nash Political Caucus banquet last year. The political action committee came under review Tuesday by state elections officials trying to determine if the group raised money improperly.

No state-level restriction applies to nonprofit donations to a PAC, but under certain circumstances such donations can threaten the organization's tax-exempt status at the federal level, elections officials warned.

So Boomsma dusted off the rule book and assured her client (she wouldn't say which one) that as long as the contributions remained under $2,000 and were disclosed properly, the Internal Revenue Service would probably leave the organization alone, she said. -- Businesses donating to the PAC face no legal consequences.

November 15, 2004

"Nonprofits Came Out in Force This Election Season"

OMB Watch says on its website: Nonprofits across the spectrum came out this election season to help voters have a voice. As a result, the United States had a voter turnout of almost 60 percent, the highest since 1968. This election proved nonprofits can "help America vote."

When students at the State University College at Oswego encountered resistance from local boards of elections when they tried to register to vote, they were not surprised. In response, a number of students founded SUNY Rock the Vote Challenge, a voter registration drive involving 20 of the 64 SUNY campuses, with help from the New York Public Interest Research Group and other nonprofits.

This is one example of how nonprofits came out in force this election season, ranging from progressive election protection groups to evangelical churches. Nonprofits succeeded in getting people registered and out to vote, and serving as poll monitors. This election season nonprofits enabled people to give a voice to their beliefs. Many nonprofits offered resources to help other groups get involved. For examples see the NPAction website.

Electionprotection.org, a diverse coalition of nonprofits, gathered an unprecedented 25,000 volunteers who worked together to document thousands of voting problems around the nation and rectify many of them on election day. It remains to be seen how many of the flaws in the Nov. 2 vote were corrected in time to save legal votes, but there is no question that our election system is more robust due to the hard work and diligence of volunteers to not only "rock the vote," but to protect the vote. -- OMB Watch - Nonprofits Came Out in Force This Election Season

October 30, 2004

IRS investigates 60 exempt groups for political activity

AP reports: About 60 charities, churches and other tax-exempt groups are being investigated for possibly breaking federal rules that bar them from participating in political activities, the Internal Revenue Service said yesterday. Such violations would threaten their tax-exempt status, the IRS said.

The investigations involve guidelines for 501(c)(3) groups, which are granted tax-exempt status so long as they do not participate in political activities such as endorsing candidates or making campaign donations.

Under the law, the IRS cannot reveal names from or details of its investigations. It did disclose that about 20 of the groups being investigated are churches.

Heightened concerns about improper political activities in this election season warranted the creation of a committee of career civil servants to look into potential political violations by tax-exempt groups, according to the agency. Of more than 100 reports received during the past couple of months, that committee found 60 cases that merited further scrutiny, the IRS said. -- 60 Tax-Exempt Groups Under Investigation (AP via washingtonpost.com)

October 29, 2004

IRS investigating NAACP

The Washington Post reports: The Internal Revenue Service has threatened to revoke the NAACP's tax-exempt status because the civil rights group's chairman, Julian Bond, "condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush" during a speech this summer, according to documents the group provided yesterday.

The NAACP, which is based in Baltimore and is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, is incorporated under a tax-code section that prohibits participation in a political campaign. The group has long had a strained relationship with the Bush administration.

An IRS document dated Oct. 8 said that at the group's annual convention in Philadelphia in July, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People may have violated the restriction on political activity because it "distributed statements in opposition of George W. Bush for the office of presidency."

"Specifically in a speech made by Chairman Julian Bond, Mr. Bond condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush on education, the economy and the war in Iraq," said an IRS "information document request" sent with the letter.

The IRS asked for the cost of the convention, including a "listing of all expense," and the "names and addresses of each board member and indicate how each voted." -- NAACP Faces IRS Investigation (washingtonpost.com)

The NAACP statement on the investigation is here.

October 27, 2004

Catholics for Free Choice asks IRS to revoke tax exemption for two archdioceses

Catholics for Free Choice has sent two letters to the IRS Commissioner asking the Commissioner to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Archdiocese of Denver and the Archdiocese of St. Louis because the archbishop of each has given "clear directions to Catholics to oppose candidates that [sic] support positions opposed by the archdiocese." Findlaw has the Denver letter and the St. Louis letter.

October 24, 2004

Election year activities of 501(c)(3) organizations

Steven Sholk emails: I am pleased to announce that an updated version of my article, "A Guide to Election Year Activities of Section 501(c)(3) Organizations," has been published by Practising Law Institute as part of the course handbook for the seminar, "Tax Strategies for Corporate Acquisitions, Dispositions, Spin-Offs, Joint Ventures, Financings, Reorganizations & Restructurings 2004."

My thanks to Steven and PLI for allowing me to share this file with you. I have used prior versions of this article and look forward to reading this one.

October 13, 2004

Kerry criticized for campaigning in churches

The New York Times reports: Liberal religious groups criticized Senator John Kerry yesterday as politicizing religion by campaigning in African-American churches.

A spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the group would file a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Miami, where Mr. Kerry spoke Sunday along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Tax laws restrict churches and tax-exempt charities from supporting political candidates. "It was all Democratic speakers, and a pastor got up and endorsed Kerry from the pulpit," the spokesman, Joe Conn, said. "It was over the line."

For a brief period last week, the Democratic National Committee Web site asked pastors to distribute campaign materials, but the request was removed amid complaints. -- Kerry Is Criticized for Church Drive (New York Times) **

September 27, 2004

501(c) organizations active in the campaign

The Washington Post reports: Unlike the campaigns of President Bush and Kerry, the two major parties, political action committees and the Swift Boat Veterans -- one of the "527" advocacy groups that have become part of the 2004 campaign lexicon -- Citizens United and Project Vote operate under the radar of regulation and public disclosure in what campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado of the Brookings Institution and Colby College described as "a real black hole."

Known as 501c groups, for a statute in the tax code, these tax-exempt advocacy and charitable organizations are conduits for a steady stream of secretive cash flowing into the election, in many respects unaffected by the McCain-Feingold legislation enacted in 2002. Unlike other political groups, 501c organizations are not governed by the Federal Election Commission but by the Internal Revenue Service, which in a complex set of regulations delineates a range of allowable activities that are subject to minimal disclosure long after Election Day.

A 501c (3) group can register voters, and donations to it are tax deductible, but it is prohibited from engaging in partisan or electioneering work. A 501c (4), (5) or (6) group can be involved in elections, but the cost of doing so must be less than one-half the group's total budget. Public Citizen, in a report last week titled "The New Stealth PACs," contended that many of the politically active 501c (4) groups regularly spend more than half their budgets on political activities in violation of IRS rules. -- New Routes for Money to Sway Voters (washingtonpost.com)


September 26, 2004

The perils of shipping to the office

AP reports: A complaint alleging the Utah Boys Ranch illegally aided in the re-election campaign of state Sen. Chris Buttars has been filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Salt Lake City attorney Thomas Thompson requested the IRS undertake a formal investigation of the private, nonprofit school for troubled youth in West Jordan. Buttars, R-West Jordan, is the tax-exempt school's executive director.

Thompson filed the complaint on behalf of a client, who requested anonymity.

A sworn statement included with the complaint claims boxes of Buttars' Senate campaign brochures were "maintained" in his Boys Ranch office. It also alleges the school's telephones were used for "campaign purposes."

Buttars, who will retire Thursday after 15 years as Boys Ranch director, acknowledged having campaign materials delivered to the school and talking to constituents and campaign supporters on office phones. -- Complaint Against Buttars Filed with IRS (AP via KSL News)

August 9, 2004

"Don't you feel it is a spiritual battle?"

The New York Times reports: Susanne Jacobsmeyer, a member of the West County Assembly of God in a St. Louis suburb, voted for George W. Bush four years ago, but mostly out of loyalty as a Republican and not with much passion.

This year, Ms. Jacobsmeyer is a "team leader" in the Bush campaign's effort to turn out conservative Christian voters. "This year I am voting for him as a man of faith," she said over breakfast after an early morning service. "He has proven that he will do what is right, and he will look to God first."

Jan Klarich, her friend and another team leader, agreed. "Don't you feel it is a spiritual battle?" she asked to nods around the table.

The Bush campaign is seeking to rally conservative churches and their members to help turn out sympathetic voters this fall, and West County Assembly of God, a 600-member evangelical congregation in a Republican district of a pivotal swing state, is on the front lines of the effort. -- Churches See an Election Role and Spread the Word on Bush

August 5, 2004

Falwell to lead conference on tax-exempt status and politics

The Washington Post reports: Jerry Falwell says he has had it with "left-wing thugs."

The Christian right leader said he is tired of being accused by civil liberties groups of abusing his ministry's tax-exempt status just because he has a few things to say about the direction of the country.

So this year, he's fighting back. Falwell told the Associated Press he intends to organize a conference in September to explain to conservative preachers what they can and cannot say about the nation's politics, without threatening their tax-exempt status. Churches that enjoy such tax breaks must abide by certain restrictions on their political activities and advocacy. -- Falwell on 'Thugs' and Taxes (washingtonpost.com)

July 31, 2004

How "social welfare" equals campaign ads

The Texas Observer reports on a group called the Law Enforcement Alliance of america: One agency tasked with policing groups like the LEAA is the Internal Revenue Service. But the IRS doesn't appear to be interested. It has designated the non-profit LEAA as "a social welfare organization." Under this tax designation, the LEAA can legally "educate" voters about issues but, it cannot advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. The IRS forbids such organizations from "direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." When big money is the key to demolishing political opponents, the biggest advantage that any "social welfare" group like the LEAA enjoys is that it is legally allowed to keep all its donors, even the largest ones, hidden.

Currently, the LEAA is under investigation by a Travis County grand jury as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into the 2002 campaign. Did the LEAA cross the line between "education" and "advocacy?" Did the LEAA serve as a key component in a coordinated GOP plan to skirt campaign finance laws and funnel prohibited corporate money into Texas politics? Was the author of that plan U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Sugar Land), whose principle objective was to redraw congressional lines so that more Republicans would be elected?

Those who track campaign money believe that the LEAA represents a troubling trend. LEAA is one of a new breed of shadowy front groups that is willing to serve as a corporate money conduit and attack dog to benefit GOP candidates, says Craig McDonald of the public policy organization Texans for Public Justice. Its issue ads are a mere hoax. When GOP candidates need a political attack from a so-called law-and-order group, they appear to funnel money to the LEAA to carry it out. -- Bankrolling Beltway Badges (Texas Observer)

July 27, 2004

Campaign Legal Center sues Falwell over endorsement

The New York Times reports: A nonpartisan group has filed a complaint with election regulators accusing a lobbying organization controlled by the Rev. Jerry Falwell of violating campaign finance laws by using its Web site to urge the re-election of President Bush and to solicit money for a political action committee.

The complaint, by the Campaign Legal Center, follows one filed this month with the Internal Revenue Service by Americans United for Separation of Church and State asserting that the site, falwell .com, may have violated its tax-exempt status by endorsing a candidate.

Mr. Falwell said his group had not broken any rules. "This is just another Democratic National Committee surrogate organization attempting to intimidate conservative pastors and their church members to prevent them from exercising their First Amendment rights," he said in a statement. -- The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > Campaign Finance: New Complaint Is Filed Against Falwell Web Site (The New York Times) ***

To read the Campaign Legal Center's complaint to the FEC and letter to the IRS Commissioner, go here.

July 17, 2004

People United complains about Falwell's tax exempt status while campaigning

The New York Times reports: Hoping to send a warning to churches helping the Bush campaign turn out conservative voters, a liberal group has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service charging that an organization run by the Rev. Jerry Falwell has violated the requirements of its tax-exempt status by endorsing Mr. Bush's re-election.

"For conservative people of faith, voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush," Mr. Falwell wrote in the July 1 issue of his e-mail newsletter "Falwell Confidential'' and on his Web site, falwell.com. "The alternative, in my mind, is simply unthinkable. To the pro-life, pro-family, pro-traditional marriage, pro-America voters in this nation, we must determine that President Bush is the man with our interests at heart. It is that simple." ...

Mr. Falwell, who helped lead conservative evangelical Protestants into politics 20 years ago as the founder of the Moral Majority, also asked for contributions to a political action committee run by the social conservative Gary Bauer. "It is the organization that I believe can have the greatest impact in re-electing Mr. Bush to the Oval Office," he wrote.

Yesterday, the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued in a letter to the I.R.S. that one of Mr. Falwell's religious organizations, Jerry Falwell Ministries, had disseminated the message in violation of tax rules, which restrict tax-exempt religious groups and charitable organizations from engaging in politics. -- Citing Falwell's Endorsement of Bush, Group Challenges His Tax-Exempt Status (The New York Times)

July 1, 2004

Former soft money not flowing as much to 527's

Contributions to political nonprofits active in federal elections have not kept pace with soft money donations to national party committees in previous election cycles, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reported [last Friday].

So-called 527 groups, named for the section of the tax code that governs them, raised fewer funds through the first 15 months of the current election cycle than the national political parties raised in soft money over the same amount of time during each of the past two election cycles, the Center's figures show.

From January of last year through March of this year, 527 groups active in federal elections raised $146.4 million, compared to the $212.4 million in soft money the national political parties raised over the same period during the 2002 election cycle. The parties raised $159.3 million in soft money during the first 15 months of the 2000 cycle.

The disparity would be even greater if contributions to 527s in 2002 and 2000 were coupled with party soft money raised during those cycles. The Center's calculations include 527 contributions only in the current cycle, the first in which such groups have been required to file financial reports electronically. -- Post-BCRA Analysis (OpenSecrets.org press release)

Thanks to Daily Kos for the link.

Bringing in the sheaves

The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives.

Campaign officials said the instructions are part of an accelerating effort to mobilize President Bush's base of religious supporters. They said the suggested activities are intended to help churchgoers rally support for Bush without violating tax rules that prohibit churches from engaging in partisan activity.

"We strongly believe that our religious outreach program is well within the framework of the law," said Terry Holt, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

But tax experts said the campaign is walking a fine line between permissible activity by individual congregants and impermissible activity by congregations. Supporters of Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, charged that the Bush-Cheney campaign is luring churches into risking their tax status. -- Churchgoers Get Direction From Bush Campaign (washingtonpost.com)