In February 2006, the IRS published the results of their review of reported violations of the Revenue Act of 1954 by organizations, including churches, whose tax exempt status prohibits their participation in or intervening in “(including the publicizing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for political office.” The 1954 act was amended in 1987 to clarify that this prohibition applies to activities “in opposition to,” as well as in favor of, any candidate for public office.
The IRS’s executive summary put it this way:
Although charities are precluded from intervening in political campaigns, the IRS has seen growth in the number and variety of allegations of such behavior by section 501(c)(3) organizations during election cycles. This increase in allegations, coupled with the dramatic increases in money spent during political campaigns, has raised concerns about whether prohibited funding and activity are emerging in section 501(c)(3) organizations.
If left unaddressed, the potential for charities, including churches, being used as arms of political campaigns and parties will erode the public’s confidence in these institutions.
In this study, the IRS examined 132 organizations (less than half of these were churches). In preparation for reviewing these organizations, 22 were dropped. Of the remaining 110 cases, 82 reviews have been “determined:”
- For three cases, the IRS proposed revocation of tax exempt status
- For 55 cases, prohibited campaign activity has occurred, however, revocation was not proposed. Each case also included a warning “that the organization risks possible revocation of tax-exempt status should it become involved in political activities in the future,” see details below.
- For 5 cases, other non-political violations were found.
- For 18 cases, no violation of the prohibition on political campaigns was found.
The violations found for the 55 cases above include:
- Charities, including churches, distributing diverse printed materials that encouraged their members to vote for a preferred candidate (24 alleged; 9 determined),
- Religious leaders using the pulpit to endorse or oppose a particular candidate (19 alleged; 12 determined),
- Charities, including churches, criticizing or supporting a candidate on their website or through links to another website (15 alleged; 7 determined),
- Charities, including churches, disseminating improper voter guides or candidate ratings (14 alleged; 4 determined),
- Charities, including churches, placing signs on their property that show they support a particular candidate (12 alleged; 9 determined),
- Charities, including churches, giving improperly preferential treatment to certain candidates by permitting them to speak at functions (11 alleged; 9 determined), and
- Charities, including churches, making cash contributions to a candidate’s political campaign (7 alleged; 5 determined).
IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, summarized the situation this way, “While the vast majority of charities, including churches, did not engage in politicking, our examinations substantiated a disturbing amount of political intervention in the 2004 electoral cycle.”
In conclusion, the IRS determinations confirm an undue, illegal and growing influence of Christianists on our political process.