FFRF reports Calif. Pastor Tim Thompson to IRS for electioneering infractions

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a formal complaint with the IRS over flagrant electioneering violations by a Southern California pastor whose efforts to elect Donald Trump were the subject this week of a major exposé by The Daily Beast.

FFRF’s letter documents a long standing pattern by Pastor Tim Thompson of using his tax-exempt church, the 412 Church Temecula Valley, and a related nonprofit, Our Watch by Tim Thompson, to promote the Inland Empire Family PAC and endorse candidates for office.

FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler charges that both Our Watch with Tim Thompson and 412 Church Temecula Valley “appear to regularly and repeatedly misuse their status as 501(c)(3) entities to engage in electoral fundraising and otherwise intervene in political campaigns for elected office.”

The Daily Beast describes Thompson as a kind of Jack Hibbs wannabe, emulating Hibbs’ political takeover of the Chino Valley Unified School Board by helping to secure a Christian nationalist school board majority on the Temecula Valley Unified School District through his PAC. He has targeted LGBTQ-plus teachers and calls public education “Satan’s playground.” Our Watch, according to The Daily Beast, has promoted QAnon conspiracies. Thompson has visited Mar-a-Lago, traveled to Israel with AIPAC, and supported the Three Percenter militia movement. At least two members of the 412 Church have been convicted of participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

FFRF’s memo to the IRS catalogs a series of flagrant violations of the IRS code, detailing how Our Watch with Tim Thompson has been coordinating with and promoting the fundraising efforts of the Inland Empire Family PAC, which is a legal no-no. For instance, Our Watch’s Instagram account put up a  joint post with the PAC to promote a fundraiser on May 22 featuring Donald Trump’s personal attorney Alina Habba and his son, Eric. Another joint post advertising a fundraising event that “we” are holding hyped the PAC and where to buy fundraising tickets, bragging about the PAC’s “track record of past successes . .  aiming for significant achievements in the upcoming elections.”

FFRF’s letter documents that Our Watch publishes a “voter guide consisting of just a list of preferred candidates.” Our Watch is interceding on behalf of a school board member, Joseph Komrosky, whom Thompson had backed, who is facing a June recall.

Other endorsements by Our Watch include recently posting on YouTube and Instagram an interview by Thompson with California U.S. Senate candidate Sharleta Bassett, in which he endorses her candidacy. The video even solicits campaign donations. Two years ago, Our Watch Instagram promoted a fundraiser for a candidate for U.S. office shortly before the election, endorsing him as a “patriot & godly candidate.”

Likewise the 412 Church website has advertised the PAC’s May 22 fundraiser under its Events section, with direct links to the PAC’s website. FFRF previously reported to the IRS that in August 2021, Thompson advised his church congregation, and then members of the public over social media, to support the recall of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Thompson has crossed the line into illegal partisan campaigning,” Ziegler is quoted telling The Daily Beast. “Nonprofit organizations, including churches, cannot support or oppose candidates for office.”

“Some religious leaders would have people believe that these are special restrictions targeting only pastors,” The Daily Beast quotes Ziegler explaining, “but the prohibition on electoral campaigning applies equally to all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.”

That’s why it’s crucial churches follow IRS rules because they receive special treatment in not having to follow the usual nonprofit reporting requirements.

“Churches are financial black holes,” Ziegler said, “and without enforcement of the IRS’s regulations, churches can act as PACs whose donations are uniquely untraceable, or take in unlimited tax-deductible contributions and use those funds for political campaigning.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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