The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that the IRS revoke the tax status of three Texas churches for donating to the campaign of a city council candidate.
“Three churches in West Texas have made financial contributions to a pastor running for a hotly contested seat on the Abilene City Council, a clear violation of federal rules prohibiting nonprofits and churches from endorsing candidates, financial disclosure records show,” states a story jointly written for ProPublica and the Texas Tribune. “Fountaingate Merkel Church, Remnant Church and Hope Chapel Foursquare Church donated a combined $800 to the campaign of Scott Beard, senior pastor at Fountaingate Fellowship church, who is running for a seat on the seven-member City Council in Saturday’s election.”
“The donations may also violate Texas election law, which prohibits both nonprofit and for-profit corporations from making political contributions to candidates or political committees,” the story continues. “Violations are considered third-degree felonies.”
The three churches appear to have violated their status as 501(c)(3) entities to intervene in political campaigning, FFRF points out.
“The Internal Revenue Code states that to retain their 501(c)(3) status, an organization cannot ‘participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,’” FFRF Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence has written to the IRS in one of the three letters FFRF has recently dispatched regarding this issue. “In this instance, Remnant Church has breached the responsibilities of its tax exempt status by actively funding a campaign for public office.”
Beard is insisting that he has returned the donation checks, but his belated attempt at contrition doesn’t mitigate the initial transgressions. That’s why the IRS must investigate the three churches and take appropriate action to ensure that they no longer receive the benefits of 501(c)(3) status and that donations made to the churches are not treated as tax deductible, FFRF is demanding.
The national state/church watchdog has sued the IRS in the past to force it to take steps to enforce the law against tax-exempt entities from engaging in partisan politicking, and is prepared to sue again if necessary. This trio of serious tax violations requires the IRS to act swiftly and publicly to carry out federal law and penalties.
“Churches are quite certainly aware of basic election laws that prohibit 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in campaign donations,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “And yet churches violate such rules with the confidence that the IRS will not hold them accountable.”
Gaylor explains that the reason for the prohibition is because political contributions to candidates are not deductible for income-tax purposes. Therefore tax-exempt entities may not lend support, much less make financial contributions, to candidates for office. To do so would create what FFRF calls “stained glass dark money” and result in a grossly unfair political playing field.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,700 members and a local chapter in Texas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.