MegaChurch Pastor Campaigns for GOP Candidate in Church
In a flagrant abuse of the IRS rules proscribing electioneering by non-profit tax-exempt organizations, the pastor of a Minnesota megachurch endorsed a Republican candidate for Congress during a worship service on Sunday. Andy Birkey, writing at the blog site, Minnesota Monitor
, details how Pastor Mac Hammond endorsed Republican congressional candidate Michelle Bachmann
during a service at Living Word Christian Center
, immediately followed by an appearance by the candidate. (there is video of the event.)
Pastor Mac Hammond: Amen. Now be seated again for a moment please. I have somebody special I want to introduce you to tonight. State Senator Michele Bachmann is with us and I'm going to ask her to come in in just a moment, and of course many of you know Michele, know of her pursuit of the United States Senate seat vacated by Mark Kennedy or Congressional seat vacated by Mark Kennedy's run for a United States Senate seat. Keeping all this straight gets to be challenging. But ya know we can't publicly endorse as a church and would not for any candidate but I can tell you personally that I'm going to vote for Michele Bachmann, because I've come to know her, what she stands for, and I want her to share her testimony with you tonight. Would you give her a warm welcome as she comes to share? Thank you Michele.
Bachman then proceeds to talk about her campaign or Congress.
Hammond's statement that a church cannot endorse is not the point. Birkey points to an IRS brochure on the point that states:
For their organizations to remain tax exempt under IRC section 501(c)(3), religious leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions.
What is particularly remarkable about Bachmann's participation in this episode is that she is a tax attorney and should know better.
I have written about the issue of church electioneering and the tax code a great deal over the years. Infact, bending and breaking the rules and offering up interpretations of convenience like Hammond's has been one of the central tactics of the religious right for a generation.
The IRS has engaged in an active education campain about the rules governing politics and tax-exempt organizaitons, including churches, this year. The basic concept regarding tax-exempt groups, according to the IRS is this:
"...all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."
What exactly does the agency mean by "intervention?" Here is the IRS clarification of the point.
What is Political Campaign Intervention?
Political campaign intervention includes any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office. The prohibition extends beyond candidate endorsements. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of an organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention. Distributing statements prepared by others that favor or oppose any candidate for public office will also violate the prohibition. Allowing a candidate to use an organization's assets or facilities will also violate the prohibition if other candidates are not given an equivalent opportunity. Although section 501(c)(3) organizations may engage in some activities to promote voter registration, encourage voter participation, and provide voter education, they will violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention if they engage in an activity that favors or opposes any candidate for public office.
I would guess that someone will complain to with the IRS about the church's obvious electioneering, and that an appropriate investgation will take place.
Bachmann's Democratic opponent, by the way, is Patty Wetterling