Monday, January 28, 2008

Presidential Candidates Preach At Churches Despite IRS Guidelines

Appearances by some of the presidential candidates yesterday, in advance of Florida's primary tomorrow and Super Tuesday's 24 primaries and caucuses, raise questions about the interpretation of IRS guidelines for Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, such as churches. Revenue Ruling 2007-41 (June 18, 2007) contains the following example of impermissible activities:

Situation 9. Minister F is the minister of Church O, a section 501(c)(3) organization. The Sunday before the November election, Minister F invites Senate Candidate X to preach to her congregation during worship services. During his remarks, Candidate X states, “I am asking not only for your votes, but for your enthusiasm and dedication, for your willingness to go the extra mile to get a very large turnout on Tuesday.” Minister F invites no other candidate to address her congregation during the Senatorial campaign. Because these activities take place during official church services, they are attributed to Church O. By selectively providing church facilities to allow Candidate X to speak in support of his campaign, Church O’s actions constitute political campaign intervention.

Does this IRS guideline cover speeches from the pulpit if a candidate does not explicitly ask for voters' support?

WMAZ-TV News reports that Sen. Barack Obama spoke for more than 30 minutes yesterday to an overflow crowd at Macon, Georgia's Harvest Cathedral. As part of his remarks, he said: "I believe that our values should be expressed not just through our churches and our synagogues, but through our government."

The Commercial Appeal reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke at morning services at Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. During her remarks, she emphasized her support for universal health care, universal pre-kindergarten and an end to the Iraq war.

Former Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee's Sunday morning church attendance seems to have been orchestrated more carefully with IRS guidance in mind. WFOL Fox35 reports that Huckabee attended services at Orlando, Florida's First Baptist Church. The church had invited all candidates to attend. Huckabee did not speak, but did have a brief exchange of reminiscences with Senior Pastor David Uth. Uth also said: "I have made a commitment that our church will not endorse a candidate. Our only purpose is to pray over each candidate and ask for God's wisdom for them. We will not treat any candidate any differently than another." However, Huckabee was scheduled to speak on Sunday evening at services at Pensacola, Florida's East Brent Baptist Church. The Huckabee Campaign notes that this talk is closed to the press.

Press reports do not indicate whether or not other candidates were also invited by the churches at which Obama, Clinton and Huckabee spoke.