Churchgoers Get Direction From Bush Campaign

The Washington Post reported that the Bush-Cheney campaign has circulated guidelines that are designed to mobilize Bush’s religious base.

The instruction sheet circulated by the Bush-Cheney campaign to religious volunteers lists 22 “duties” to be performed by specific dates. By July 31, for example, volunteers are to “send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney ‘04 Headquarters or give [it] to a BC04 Field Rep” and “Talk to your Pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and Voter Registration Drive.”

By Aug. 15, they are to “talk to your Church’s seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush/Cheney ‘04” and “recruit 5 more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush Cheney campaign.”

By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with church members, and in October they are to “finish calling all Pro-Bush members of your church,” “finish distributing Voter Guides in your church” and place notices on church bulletin boards or in Sunday programs “about all Christian citizens needing to vote.”

Although Tax Experts, unnamed in the article, say that the campaign is walking a fine line between permissible and un-permissible activity, Republican campaign officials claim that the guidelines are within the law.  An IRS spokesman, responding to The Washington Post, said—“It would be inappropriate for the IRS, based on a limited set of facts and circumstances, to render a judgment about whether the activities in this document would or would not endanger a church’s tax-exempt status.”

For more on legality, and for reaction by some religious organizations

It seems to me that field volunteers for BC04 could privately recruit additional campaign workers from their church memberships, ask their pastors to hold registration drives, and could even turn over a personal copies of Church Directories*. However, partisan activity by a Pastor during an official Church function would be a violation of tax law.

According to some guidelines provided by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Churches and other non-profit organizations that hold 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status must abide by Internal Revenue Service regulations barring any involvement in partisan politics. The blanket prohibition concerns only races for public office, not issues. Religious leaders may speak out from the pulpit or in other forums on moral and political issues. However, churches and pastors may not endorse candidates for public office or advise congregants to vote for or against certain candidates. Federal tax law in this area is quite strict, and the IRS has indicated that it follows a “zero tolerance” policy toward violations.

Americans United (AU) further advises churches to be wary about passing out voters guides prepared by outside organizations. Since these organizations operate under a different part of the tax code, they can participate in some activities not allowed to churches. AU further cautions that Federal Courts have not cleared the Christian Coalition’s voter guides for distribution in houses of worship.

The rules are a bit more complex than interpretation provided by the AU. The IRS cautions that even their own guidelines  are not comprehensive.

For one example of complexity, consider voting guides. They are permitted but they must meet certain criteria:

■ whether the candidates’ positions are compared to the organization’s position,
■ whether the guide includes a broad range of issues that the candidates would address if elected to the office sought,
■ whether the description of issues is neutral,
■ whether all candidates for an office are included, and
■ whether the descriptions of candidates’ positions are either:
– -the candidates’ own words in response to questions, or
– -a neutral, unbiased and complete compilation of all candidates’ positions.

I imagine that the BC Campaign would be walking a very fine line in providing neutral descriptions of issues and a neutral and complete compilation of other candidates positions. As would any campaign group for that matter.

The IRS routinely sends routinely sends out their guidelines to charitable organizations, educational organizations and Churches in election years. This year they also sent out a letter to the seven political parties to remind them that political activity by a Church or charitable organization could cause that organization to lose their tax-exempt status. AU believes this to be the first time that the IRS issued such a letter.

Some Churchgoers didn’t take kindly to the direction. This AP article on Yahoo News lists several religious leaders that spoke out against the campaign initiative. However, the lead discussed the Southern Baptist convention which has strongly supported Bush in the past.

The Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative denomination closely aligned with President Bush, said it was offended by the Bush-Cheney campaign’s effort to use church rosters for campaign purposes.

“I’m appalled that the Bush-Cheney campaign would intrude on a local congregation in this way,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“The bottom line is, when a church does it, it’s nonpartisan and appropriate. When a campaign does it, it’s partisan and inappropriate,” he said. “I suspect that this will rub a lot of pastors’ fur the wrong way.”

It is probably too much to hope that fence mending on this issue will be a distraction to the BC04 campaign.

* Mr. Land disagrees with me.

5 thoughts on “Churchgoers Get Direction From Bush Campaign

  1. This has really been frightening me ever since I first read about it.  Bush and Cheney are throwing all pretense of secularism RIGHT out the fucking window.  Why don’t they just paint crucifixes on their campaign bus and be done with it??


  2. I admit I’m no rocket scientist but the wording of the letter issued by the IRS can’t be much clearer.

    If the debate or forum, voter guide, or voter registration or get-out-the-vote drive shows a preference for or against a certain
    candidate or party, however, it becomes a prohibited activity.

    And then this comes from the ‘Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics’
    [Quote]Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.

    Can you guess what those ‘non-negotiables’ might be?  If you said major church issues you would be wrong.  It’s funny how these ‘non-negotiables’ just happen to be five items that Bush and Kerry are clearly polar opposites on. 

    As I’ve mentioned before we have a plethora of televangelists in Texas and they’ve pushed the envelope all the way to saying that “No man will sit at the right hand of God if he votes for Mr. Ketchup.”  Technically he didn’t side with a particular candidate so I guess he’s ‘safe’ from the IRS.  Just like Jesus would do.

    I’m all for churches being allowed to gather their flock and ‘goose-step’ to the pulpit but their taxation status should be no different than any other workers union.  They can just write off whatever they use for charitable purposes just like everyone else.  The IRS could make a mint auditing these assholes.

    The IRS needs to be swift in cracking down on these people and sending a message of ‘If you want to preach that’s fine, if you want to play politics put some money in the pot.’  I’m taking bets on the number of churches that lose their tax exempt status this year.  Any takers?

  3. Appeal to church-goers of different stripes is a time-“honored” tradition (cue pictures of any number of candidates standing up in pulpits of various churches).  Ditto for targeted Get-out-the-Vote efforts. 

    I agree, though, that not only is a church flacking for a particular candidate (or party) of dubious legality, but it’s bad religion.  Tying a church to a particular party just means that when the electoral cycle (inevitably) changes, your status changes with it.

  4. I had asked before how we could ensure that tax codes are changed so that churches aren’t tax exempt, and I have no problem with only some of their concessions being altered (for a start). With any luck, Bush and Cheney are hastening the changes I feel should come.

    What would Bush /Cheney do, june? (grin)
    They would fuck it up like they fuck up everything they involve themselves with.

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