Monday, November 03, 2014

ANS -- Rogue Pastors Endorse Candidates From Pulpit, Defying Tax-Exempt Status as IRS Looks Away

Here is an interesting article saying that "Christian" pastors are telling their congregations how to vote, taunting the IRS with it, and the IRS is ignoring them.  Do you think the IRS would ignore a lefty church if it told its congregants how to vote? 
find it here:   

 (photo: AP)  
(photo: AP)

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Rogue Pastors Endorse Candidates From Pulpit, Defying Tax-Exempt Status as IRS Looks Away

By Rachel Bade, Politico

03 November 14


[]  record number of rogue Christian pastors are endorsing candidates from the pulpit this election cycle, using Sunday sermons to defiantly flout tax rules.

Their message to the IRS: Sue me.

But the tax agency is doing anything but. Although the IRS was sued itself for not enforcing the law and admitted about 100 churches may be breaking the rules, the pastors and their critics alike say the agency is looking the other way. The agency refuses to say if it is acting.

At the same time, the number of pastors endorsing candidates in what they call Pulpit Freedom Sunday jumped from 33 people in 2008 to more than 1,600 this year, according to organizers, Alliance Defending Freedom. And this year, they've stepped up their drive, telling pastors to back candidates any Sunday up until the election, not just one Sunday as in past years.

The church leaders are jumping in high-profile races that will help decide the Senate and tight governor races across the country, endorsing candidates from Thom Tillis (R) over Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in North Carolina to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) over Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) in Kentucky.

Rev. Mark Cowart, pastor at Colorado Springs-based Church For All Nations, suggested good Christians should vote Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper out of office in an Oct. 19 sermon, where he endorsed his GOP rival, Bob Beauprez.

"Beauprez is against more gun control, does not support abortion and he does protect the man-woman marriage ­ that's the one I'm voting for. … I'm endorsing biblical principles," the preacher said in a video of the service, pacing a church stage and chopping his hand through the air for emphasis.

At issue is the churches' tax break as tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations. They don't pay taxes, and donations to them can be deducted from contributors' taxable income.

But with that break comes limits on political endorsements. Charities are barred from engaging in political campaigns.

So while pastors can discuss abortion, gay marriage and other controversial issues in their sermons, they're not allowed to back candidates or use church money to fund campaign activities, and keep their tax break.

"You can't have a tax-exempt entity engaged in politics because that involves using tax-exempt money for political purposes, so it's an unfair playing field," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the organization that sued the IRS in 2012 for failing to enforce electioneering restrictions on churches. The group settled this summer with an understanding that the IRS would eventually take action.

So far there's been no evidence they have.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in an interview last month with Tax Analysts suggested the IRS isn't planning to crack down on churches anytime soon. He said the FFRF lawsuit news "spread out into the world … somehow we are doing something very different and we are going to show up either more aggressively or more often in a different way than we have in the past, and that is not what that case was about at all."

It's another sign of the tax agency turned upside down by the tea party targeting controversy. Although the IRS is under fire from the right for being heavy-hand with conservative tax-exempt entities, it's also getting hit from the left for failing to enforce decade-old rules governing churches and politics.

The law was written in 1954 by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), who was facing a contentious reelection challenge where several 501(c)(3)s endorsed his opponent, labeling him soft on communism.

The pastors, who make it easy for the IRS by often taping their sermons and mailing them to the tax agency, argue that it infringes on their First Amendment rights.

"The church is God's organization ­ what right does the government have to control this?" said Rev. Kevin Baird of Legacy Church in Charleston, S.C.

In a recent sermon Baird questioned the integrity of a local state Senate Republican official up for reelection, who calls himself "pro-life" yet has not advanced legislation on the issue in his committee.

In Charlotte, N.C., Southern Baptist preacher Mark Harris ­ who made his own failed bid for Sen. Hagan's seat in the GOP primary earlier this year ­ said he made clear to his congregation that he backed Tillis, decrying Hagan's pro-choice and gay marriage stances as "deeds of darkness" during an October service.

In Georgia a week later, Rev. Jeff Whitmire used his sermon to back Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and Senate candidate David Perdue (R), over their Democratic counterparts Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn, he said.

And Cowart in Colorado also endorsed Rep. Cory Gardner (R) over incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D) saying, "We need to see him out."

Their ultimate goal: igniting a lawsuit with the IRS and taking the issue to the Supreme Court.

"If by chance a member of the IRS gets this sermon and is listening, sue me," said evangelical pastor Jim Garlow of the San Diego-based Skyline Church, after backing Democratic Rep. Scott Peters for reelection. His Republican challenger, Carl DeMaio, is gay, and could advance a "radical homosexual agenda," Garlow warned.

Years ago the IRS was bolder on the issue. The Church at Pierce Creek in Binghamton, N.Y., for example, lost its tax-exempt status in the 1990s after printing a USA Today ad claiming a vote for President Bill Clinton was a sin.

Most of the pastors interviewed said they're not interested in spending church money on campaigns, just advising their congregations to, as they say, "vote biblically."

But opponents of the practice, including Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that's a slippery-slope.

"If today, Congress repealed that provision … then two days from now there would be religious right groups saying … we want to make a contribution directly from the collections to our favorite candidate for public office."

Gaylor also noted that churches don't have to file the annual Form 990 to the IRS, as other nonprofits do to disclose their finances. In that regard, she argues, people could easily "turn churches into money-laundering congregations for political purposes" ­ and no one would know.

Movement pastors argue that churches are different than ordinary 501(c)(3)s because they're religious entities.

"When you find leaders promoting policies that in go in direct opposition to God's law, that's where it's the job of the Church to speak out," said Indiana-based Rev. Ron Johnson, who proudly pointed POLITICO to a story quoting him illegally telling his church that any Christian who voted for President Barack Obama is suffering "severe moral schizophrenia."

Marc Owens, the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division who has filed complaints against the Pulpit Freedom Sunday pastors, said the IRS is hurting overall tax compliance by failing to address the issue.

IRS's timid approach to enforcing rules is likely linked to a lawsuit it lost in 2009. The agency in 2007 began auditing Living Word Christian Center for endorsing Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). And when the church wouldn't hand over records, the government filed suit.

But the judge tossed the case because of a technical matter. It pointed to IRS rules requiring regional agency commissioners or a higher-ranking official to approve church audits. Since the regional commissioner position had been eliminated in the late 1990s, the IRS had allowed lower-level agents to open the investigations.

The judge said that wasn't allowed.

After that, the IRS dropped a bunch of church investigations initiated by lower-level employees, including one of Minnesota Rev. Gus Booth, a Pulpit Freedom Sunday participant lambasting Obama and Hillary Clinton. He personally called them to ask why.

"They don't want to have a court battle," he said in an interview.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2012 sued the IRS for giving the pastors a pass while enforcing electioneering rules on non-religious nonprofits. The group agreed to drop the suit after government lawyers told them the IRS had flagged about 100 churches that merited investigation but had "suspended" probes of politically engaged tax-exempt organizations while it reviewed its process in the midst of the tea party controversy.

FFRF said it would give the IRS a chance to act.

But both the pastors and their critics have been disappointed at the lack of IRS action since then. Owens suggested the IRS's merely told the court the churches are on their radar ­ not that they're actually doing anything about it. Most doubt they are.

The pastors group also doesn't know of a single audit underway.

In the meantime, the sermon organizers predict their numbers to grow.

Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, Calif., for instance, is teaching other churches how to use his scorecard for judging candidates based on three issues: abortion, gay marriage, and Israel's right to exist.

"Apply this and you'll learn how to vote from a biblical world view," he tells his listeners.

The scorecard could easily pass for an endorsement, and he knows it. He tells POLITICO he spent $25,000 to have accountants do a forensic audit of the churches books to "make sure we're squeaky clean" in case the IRS comes calling.

"I know my days are numbered," he said. "As long as I'm biblical, I'm cool with that."

But the IRS is not in any rush to take a look.

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