Can Churches Support a Candidate?
Posted: 06 December 2007 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
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What are the rules on churches supporting candidates?

NPR interviewed a conservative Iowa minister about politics and he made a comment about which candidate to support and how to convey that to his congregation.  He talked about how they preach that Mormonism is a cult and how could he turn around and support Mitt Romney as the best candidate when they already established Mormonism as a cult.  The interviewer continued to make political discussion and didn’t even touch on the issue of a church supporting a candidate.  Isn’t this against the law?

Also, there was a meeting in the Des Moines area a little while back that got members of various churches to meet and discuss how they could get their congregations to support a specific candidate and offered pamphlets and contacts to support this agenda.  They had lawyers involved and apparently the legality was ongoing and not resolved.  A statement was made that if they had to choose, they would sacrifice their tax status to push this agenda.  We could only hope they would be this stupid.  I know someone who has an audio recording of this meeting.  Any information on this topic would be appreciated.

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Posted: 06 December 2007 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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What are the rules on churches supporting candidates?

They may discuss issues, but may not endorse candidates unless they are willing to lose their tax exemption.  See this article.

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Posted: 07 December 2007 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Is there an organization that we can report to about unlawful candidate support?  I get the feeling that this system is commonly abused and that it is rarely held accountable.

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Posted: 07 December 2007 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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retrospy - 07 December 2007 08:07 AM

Is there an organization that we can report to about unlawful candidate support?  I get the feeling that this system is commonly abused and that it is rarely held accountable.

Well, IIRC it’s usually the IRS that takes on these sorts of cases. If a church starts supporting a candidate, it becomes a political organization and loses its tax-exempt status.

But I expect there is an uncommonly large amount of abuse of this sort of regulation ...

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Posted: 07 December 2007 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Is there an organization that we can report to ....

It is an IRS issue.  However, you can also go to the Americans United website and send them an e-mail.  They’re the “Watchdog” group for this kind of thing and are happy to check into abuses.  They’ll notify the IRS.

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Posted: 07 December 2007 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Would the act of hiring lawyers to investigate how much they can endorse candidates and creating brochures and handouts on the issue be considered a violation of their tax free status?  I suppose I would need proof that this was funded by the church and not the individuals?  The meeting did take place in a church and they passed around for offerings, if that counts.

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Posted: 07 December 2007 11:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’m on it.  I have a source for these questions…..  Will get back on it.

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Posted: 07 December 2007 12:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Meanwhile, I’ll give you my take on it and see if there is consensus.

Would the act of hiring lawyers to investigate how much they can endorse candidates ...be considered a violation of their tax free status?

I would say “No”.  Getting clarifications on the laws is appropriate.

Would the act of ... creating brochures and handouts on the issue be considered a violation of their tax free status?

If it is on the “issue”, there is no problem.  They can make brochures to say that they are “Pro-Life”, for example, but they cannot say “Vote for Mitt Romney” because he is Pro-Life.  That crosses the line.

... and I suppose I would need proof that this was funded by the church and not the individuals?

I believe that is correct.

The meeting did take place in a church and they passed around for offerings, if that counts.

That counts.  A non-profit organization breaks the tax code for its non-profit status if it uses any of its property or buildings (the objects of the tax break) to promote candidates.  Public Libraries, YMCA’s, Boys Clubs, etc. also cannot be used in this manner.  Churches are not singled out here.  It’s all tax exempt non-profits.  If they meet someplace that is off the non-profit’s property and aren’t using their funds to pay for anything, they’re OK.  For example, if invited to speak at a dinner, as a private citizen they can promote a candidate until they’re blue in the face.  If they do it from the pulpit, they’re crossing the line.

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Posted: 07 December 2007 12:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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If I’m not mistaken, Pat Robertson lost his tax exemption several years ago.  I’m checking…...

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