Robocall priest violates federal laws

Informed Catholics actually misinformed

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has waited three years to declare victory over an election violation complaint it filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2008 concerning the political group Informed Catholic Citizens.

The case originated on Nov. 25, 2008 after Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca [Kratz] Markert wrote a letter to the FEC on behalf of a concerned Colorado resident.

In an ICC issued robocall message (listen to the mp3), a priest, identifying himself as Father Bill Carmody with a Colorado Springs parish and working with ICC, exhorted citizens to vote "pro-life" for John McCain. Other calls were made targeting Democratic Senate candidate Mark Udall.

The call by Carmody included this exhortation:

Regardless of the spinning that some politicians have done, the Catholic Church's opposition to the evil of abortion has always been the same and is crystal clear. Why is it important in the election? John McCain has a record of supporting life. But in the words of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, Barack Obama is the most committed abortion rights presidential candidate of either major party in 35 years.

Markert's letter called attention to ICC's engagements in express advocacy. Fr. Carmody, on ICC's behalf, clearly identified the federal candidates, delineating their positions on abortion and asked voters, in effect, to vote "pro-life" for a particular candidate.

The FEC's Factual Analysis confirmed FFRF's allegation that ICC violated several U.S. reporting codes in the Federal Campaign Act. ICC failed to disclose its independent expenditure, failed to file a 24-hour notice of its independent expenditure and failed to include the required disclaimer.

ICC was a 501(c)4 political group headed by former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez. Its avowed purpose was to "assist you in finding the truth about the candidates and information necessary to make an educated choice consistent with Catholic doctrine." ICC's declared purpose was to provide information on candidates regarding, "the five non-negotiable doctrines of the Church: abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and human cloning."

"...the Commission found that there was reason to believe Informed Catholic Citizens violated 2 U.S.C. § 434(c), § 434(g), and § 441d(a)... provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971...," wrote FEC Attorney April Sands in an Oct. 27, 2011 letter to FFRF.

"...it appears that at least one of the ICC recorded calls - the Carmody Call - contained express advocacy... Because the Camody Call contained express advocacy and ICC likely spent over $250 on the call, ICC was subject to the independent expenditure reporting requirements of section 434(c) of the Act," noted the FEC analysis.

All of the Fr. Carmody calls were made by ICC (at the time, a new lobbying group whose only major undertakings appeared to be the robocalls to Colorado citizens concerning two federal races) within a week of the Nov. 4 election.

"Lobbying groups spending more than $250 on an independent political expenditure have an obligation to report to the FEC. Any such group spending $1,000 or more within 20 days of an election on such calls is required to report the independent expenditure within 24 hours," noted Markert in her original letter the FEC.

FEC analysis found that the ICC spent over $1,000 in connection with the Carmody call after the 20th day of the election, adding to their repertoire of violations.

The final piece of analysis further substantiated Markert's initial concerns: "The Carmody Call did not contain the full required disclaimer, as it did not clearly state the address, telephone number, or website address of ICC and did not state that the communication was not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."

The FEC has notified Informed Catholic Citizens of their findings, cautioning them in future elections. Any further action taken by the FEC will be released on Nov. 26. 

View FFRF's previous press releases here

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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