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A little reminder

posted by awelborn

IRS reminds non-profits of their proper place

The Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday reminded charities to steer clear of prohibited political actions during their election-year activities.

Charities, churches, educational institutions and other nonprofit groups organized as tax-exempt organizations cannot participate in or intervene in any political campaign, nor can they advocate for or against any candidate for public office.



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Jonathan

posted April 28, 2004 at 1:22 pm


Unless, of course, the venue is a predominantly African-American church and the candidate in question is a Democrat. Then, all is kosher.
Can you imagine the screams of outrage if a prominent pro-life Catholic held a fundraiser at a conservative Catholic church? Even in the parish hall? I mean, let’s be real. There’s a HUGE double standard.
A columnist in my local newspaper (www.thestate.com) wrote a column after a Sharpton “event” last February saying that he was sick of seeing his church and other black churches used as venues for politics.



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John Hearn

posted April 28, 2004 at 1:53 pm


…with special exemptions for AME churches holding political rallies for Democratic candidates during their Sunday services…



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Mike Petrik

posted April 28, 2004 at 3:51 pm


The foregoing commentators are spot on correct. The Service lends a blind eye toward flagrant violations at African-American churches. In my 47 years I have never heard a Catholic priest endorse a candidate from the pulpit, though they have and share opinions just like any other American voter.
It should be emphasized, however, that there is absolutely nothing unlawful about a priest saying that it is normally sinful to vote for a pro-abortion candidate when a viable pro-life candidate is available. The priest cannot name candidates in that context, however. He must rely on parishioners to conduct their own due diligence as to a candidates beliefs and positions (not necessarily the same thing).



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Ampersand

posted April 28, 2004 at 4:01 pm


Mike wrote: It should be emphasized, however, that there is absolutely nothing unlawful about a priest saying that it is normally sinful to vote for a pro-abortion candidate when a viable pro-life candidate is available. The priest cannot name candidates in that context, however. He must rely on parishioners to conduct their own due diligence as to a candidates beliefs and positions (not necessarily the same thing).
This seems to me to be a distinction without a difference. In either case, what we have is religious leaders using their authority within their church to try and influence how people vote.
I’m not against it in either case; it seems to me that you shouldn’t lose free speech rights by becoming a religious leader.



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Clayton

posted April 28, 2004 at 4:12 pm


So when Planned Parenthood endorsed a certain presidential candidate last Friday… something they have never done in their history before… did they violate the IRS regulation?



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alkali

posted April 28, 2004 at 4:27 pm


So when Planned Parenthood endorsed a certain presidential candidate last Friday… something they have never done in their history before… did they violate the IRS regulation?
The endorsement was made by Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Contributions to that organization are not tax deductible. So there was no violation.
Setting up a parallel organization for political purposes only is a pretty common practice all across the political spectrum.



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ray wadas

posted April 28, 2004 at 4:31 pm


Does that also mean groups like NARAL? Are they also not for profit?
rw



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ray wadas

posted April 28, 2004 at 4:31 pm


Does that also mean groups like NARAL? Are they also not for profit?
rw



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ray wadas

posted April 28, 2004 at 4:31 pm


Does that also mean groups like NARAL? Are they also not for profit?
rw



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Mike Petrik

posted April 28, 2004 at 4:50 pm


Clayton,
If the Planned Parenthood organization did such a thing and if it is a 501(c)(3) organization, then yes it would be a violation. I would caution, however, that it is possible that Planned Parenthood is a web of numerous separate entities connected by contractual affiliation, and only some of those entities are actually 501(c) organizations. For example, each local United Way is a separate entity that makes its own policies and investment/allocation decisions. Each is affiliated by contract with the United Way of America pursuant to which they adhere to basic rules of good conduct and are permitted to use the United Way brand name and benefit by national advertising (such as the NFL spots) in exchange for a fairly modest fee based on gross revenues. I would not assume that one United Way’s violation would affect any of the others, even if the violator was the national agency.
Ampersand,
The distinction does matter both legally and practically. The legal distinction is made clear when one compares the conduct of the African-American churches described above (illegal) with the practices of Catholic churches (legal). The practical consequences can be seen in the voting practices that follow. African-Americans all too often vote blindly in accordance with their pastor’s clear and enthusiastic exhortations. In contrast, all too often, Catholics ignore their pastor’s measured and nuanced admonitions.
Technically, free speech rights are not encumbered by this rule. The adoption of section 501(c)(3) (and related provisions) of the IRC is not constitutionally required. It is a special provision that not only confers income tax exempt status on the organization, but allows individuals to make deductions to such organizations on a deductible basis. The latter is probably at least as valuable as the former. In order to qualify for this especially privileged tax treatment an organization must conform to various rules. One of those is the rule prohibiting political activity. The organization can certainly encourage its constituents to vote in favor or or against certain policies as long as such efforts are consistent with the organization’s exempt mission (though there are some limits here too — such lobbying efforts cannot be “substantial” when viewed in the context of the entirety of the organization’s activities), but it cannot take deductible tax dollars and use them to directly or indirectly support particular candidates. No organization is required to qualify for coveted 501(c)(3) status; an organization that finds the rules too confining can simply raise money the way political candidates and parties do — on a non-deductible basis.
Finally, I think this rule is a good one from the standpoint of the Church. The Church must be ever cautious in evaluating candidates. Candidates’ positions and beliefs can be deceptive (sometimes intentionally so). A putatively pro-life candidate might be a liar and a pro-choice candidate might actually define “choice” so narrowly that he is more likely to make policy improvements from a Catholic viewpoint. It would greatly endanger the credibility of the Church to endorse candidates as opposed to instructing the faithful on right and wrong, including, when appropriate, the role of government in such matters.
As I explained in my initial post, the IRC constraints notwithstanding, the Church has ample latitude to get its point across with clarity and emphasis, even if it can’t and shouldn’t behave the way all too many African-American churches behave.



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john hearn

posted April 28, 2004 at 6:35 pm


It also stuck me after reading your post Mike, that this rule also keeps many of our more “liberal” priests from indorsing a pro-death candidate from his pulpit too. I’m sure many of them would love to do so.



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Mike Petrik

posted April 28, 2004 at 6:45 pm


That is a fair and valid point, John.



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Puzzled

posted April 28, 2004 at 10:55 pm


Mike,
That may be the way judges ‘interpret’ the law, but the Founders were quite clear, as is the First Ammendment, that the Church and State are separate spheres. The State cannot lawfully tax the tithe, or the Church. When it does so, Caesar is claiming jurisdiction that belongs to God, and is committing rebellion and blasphemy.



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Bill H

posted April 29, 2004 at 1:03 am


Ray W.,
NARAL may be a not-for-profit organization, but they obviously don’t fall under the 501(c)(3) section of the tax code. As their website’s donation page says: “Donations to NARAL Pro-Choice America are not tax deductible and may be used for supporting or opposing political candidates.” So, whatever else NARAL is, it’s a legit (at least in the eyes of the IRS if not in the eyes of God) vehicle for supporting pro-abort politicians.



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Mike Petrik

posted April 29, 2004 at 5:59 am


Puzzled,
Read the First Amendment again. It does not remotely say what you say it does. Your separate spheres hypothesis is no less an interpretation than the courts. The argument that not exempting churches from otherwise uniform taxes is a violation of free exercise is hardly intuitive or compelling, even though it is certainly plausible. The argument that an income tax must allow a deduction for amounts given to churches is not even plausible in my view. Remember, this is a tax on income not a tax on expenditures.
The separate spheres hypothosis, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean fire departments could not service churches and ministers could not be arrested for crimes taking place on church property. It is highly doubtful that the Framers intended such bizarre results. The separate spheres theory is a cousin to the wall of separation theory, which is both contra-literal and contra-historical.



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Jim

posted April 29, 2004 at 6:13 am


Under the “separate spheres” theory propounded by Puzzled above, one might think that clerics are not subject to the jurisdiction of civil courts for criminal acts, a position the Church has been more than happy to assert over the years….right up into our own times.



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Puzzled

posted April 29, 2004 at 9:29 am


Jim and Mike,
I did not communicate well, since you both misunderstood what I -meant- to communicate.
The Dutch neo-Calvinist separate spheres terminology, which I used to describe an earlier, more rough-hewn form, is based fairly closely on the -Catholic- teachings regarding subsidiarity and distributism.
At the time of the War of Independance, you would have had a few Lutherans with the Two Kingdoms model, based on Augustine’s City of God versus City of Man dichotomy, and a majority holding to the thread of that view that came through du Plessy de Mornay, de Bracton, Calvin and Knox. The first two were Catholics. The idea is that these separate spheres have specific regions of authority, and that they received their authority from God, not from each other.
Because the tithe belongs to God, for Caesar to tax it, is to claim power and authority over God, for a tax is a tribute payment of an inferior to a suzereign.
Throughout the Age of Faith, Church property was not under the authority of the secular sword in the Catholic two swords analogy. This also factors into my understanding.
Obviously civil penalties for civil offenses -are- the jurisdiction of the civil government, for every individual is in multiple spheres, wearing multiple ‘hats’ if you will.
I’ve probably only made things muddier, for which I apologize.



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Mike Petrik

posted April 29, 2004 at 10:03 am


A little muddier, perhaps, but if so that is my failing, not yours, Puzzled.
My only responsive observation would be that an income tax is not a tax on a tithe or any other type of expenditure. It is a tax on each citizen’s income. The fact that Congress sees fit to allow a deduction from the income base for amounts contributed to religious, charitable and similar organizations is sound policy in my view — and permitted by the First Amendment (i.e., not an establishment of religion), but not required by it (i.e., a tax on income does not impair one’s exercise of religion, including one’s ability to tithe, unless perhaps if it is confiscatory).



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c matt

posted April 30, 2004 at 12:01 pm


“Oh, you can vote for him – he is an immoral, blaspheming heretical spawn of Satan and you’ll go straight to hell for doing so – but you can vote for him.”
That would not be prohibited from the pulpit under the Code, would it? After all, the preacher is only advising of the spiritual consequences of your decision, but the action you take is up to you, right?



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Mike Petrik

posted April 30, 2004 at 12:33 pm


c matt,
Not quite, I don’t think. Of course, the action a parish or congregation member takes is always his own decision. I would have no quibble with your post if you eliminate the words “him – he is.” The clergyman is safe as long as he does not personalize the admonition, I think. By that I mean “safe” from an IRC standpoint.
From a Catholic theological standpoint I’m not so sure. One certainly is not permitted to favor abortions or their legality. Nor is one permitted to take actions intended to promote abortions or their legality. Nor is one permitted to be indifferent to abortions or their legality. But politics (unlike morality) is often counterintuitive. One is permitted to vote for a pro-choice candidate if one believes in good conscience that such a vote will actually better assist the pro-life cause than a vote for the pro-life opponent. While this seems paradoxical it is not at all far-fetched. One need only consider the case of a Republican pro-choice Senatorial candidate opposing a Democrat pro-life candidate. It would be perfectly reasonable for a Catholic to vote for the Republican on the theory that party discipline and unity will likely impel his support for a pro life judicial nominee whereas the same factors will likely impel opposition from the Democrat. This is a prudential judgment and priests and bishops should be cautious about substituting their prudential political calculus for that of other voters. That is not to say that such priests and bishops shouldn’t be emphatic about the need to support pro-life objectives.



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Lawrence Krubner

posted April 30, 2004 at 9:25 pm


I mean, let’s be real. There’s a HUGE double standard.
Why would this be? We’re now 36 years into the current conservative era. Conservatives have won most of the battles they’ve fought since 1968. Of the last 36 years, Democrats have only held the Presidency for 12 years. Bush has had more than 3 full years to revamp the IRS. How can there possibly be any bias in favor of the Democrats? Assuming there was one, why didn’t Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush Sr and Bush Jr do something about it?
Or, to put the same question another way, if holding the presidency for 24 of the last 36 years, and recently holding both branches of the legislature, is not enough to get what conservatives want, then what would it take for conservatives to get what they want? If they’d held the Presidency for 36 of the last 36 years, would things be any better?



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