FFRF Pursues Electioneering Violations by Priest, Catholic Group in Colorado

The national Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a formal complaint on Nov. 12 with the Federal Election Commission “seeking an immediate investigation and enforcement action” against Informed Catholic Citizens (ICC) over an election violation in Colorado.

The Foundation had previously alerted media to a recorded robo-call message, in which a priest, identifying himself as a pastor with a Colorado Springs parish and working with ICC, basically exhorted citizens to vote “pro-life” for John McCain:

“This is Father Bill Carmody, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Colorado Springs. I’m calling on behalf of Informed Catholic Citizens, about the importance of your vote in the election. 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. And the Democratic Party platform adopted in Denver is clearly antilife. There are many important issues to consider. But as Archbishop Chaput says, Every other human right depends on the right to life. If you have not already voted, I pray you will search your conscience carefully and consider all the information you deem important and then vote like life depended on it. Because it does. This  message is paid for by Informed Catholic Citizens.”

The complaint, filed by Foundation staff attorney Rebecca S. Kratz, notes that ICC’s avowed purpose is to “assist you in finding the truth about the candidates and information necessary to make an educated choice consistent with Catholic doctrine.”

Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) prohibits corporations, including lobbying groups, from making any contribution or expenditure in connection with any federal election, and which “expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.” FEC regulations define express advocacy as a communication that, among other things, uses phrases such as “ ‘Vote Pro-Life’ or ‘Vote Pro-Choice’ accompanied by a listing of clearly identified candidates described as Pro-Life or Pro-Choice.”

Prohibited “express advocacy” includes that which a reasonable person would interpret as advocat

ing the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidate(s). The calls were made within a week of the Nov. 4 election by a new lobbying group whose only major undertakings appear to be the robo-calls to Colorado citizens concerning two federal races, “suggesting that the organization’s primary purpose is to promote political ideas,” Kratz wrote.

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, yet ICC had not registered or reported independent expenditures, Kratz noted in her Nov. 7 complaint.

The Foundation requested an immediate FEC investigation and sent a separate letter to the IRS calling for an evaluation.

“The ICC robo-calls appeared to be a subterfuge for the Catholic Church hierarchy to electioneer,” noted Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation