Catholics for a Free Choice Monitors Tax Abuse by Religious Right Agencies
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Sep 12, 2006 at 02:39:18 AM EST
Catholics for a Free Choice has sent out an e-mail alert calling on Catholics to be on the look out for inappropriate partisan political activities by churches and Catholic antiabortion groups. Communications Director David Nolan writes:
While nonprofit groups are allowed to participate in many political activities such as voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts, some organizations continue to challenge election and tax law by engaging in activities which violate their tax-exempt status. This is especially the case with conservative Catholic pressure groups who vehemently oppose a women's right to choose and what they call the "five non-negotiable issues" of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and same sex marriage.

The actions of two groups thus far are particularly egregious and it seems the Internal Revenue Service is beginning to pay attention to them.

If you suspect inappropriate political activity has taken place in your parish or in your diocese on behalf of the institutional Catholic hierarchy or groups like Priests for Life, American Life League or Catholic Answers Action, please call CFFC at (202) 986-6093. We also encourage you to report any suspect activity to the Internal Revenue Service which will conduct an investigation.

This is smart politics, and long overdue. Much more on the flip.  

Religious right groups have, over the years, been very aggressive in bending and breaking the clear rules that apply to all non-profit tax exempt groups in order to qualify for 501(c)(3) tax status.   This year, the IRS has engaged in a very public effort to regain public confidence on the matter; educate non-profit groups about the rules, and promising a firm and fair enforcement campaign. Citizen groups like CFFC are actively monitoring groups with a history of such behavior.

CFFC has been concerned about the overt partisan political activities of the Catholic Church for a long time, and this year are being more aggressive about monitoring their activities, and reporting apparent violations of the IRS rules proscribing electoral politics by non-profit tax-exempt groups. They say that betwen now and election day, they will updates us about what they learn the partisan activities of tax-exempt groups, as well as parishes, clergy and other church employees acting in their official capacities.

Here at Talk to Action, we have discussed the general issue of tax abuse by the religious right before. At the time of CFFC's complaint to the IRS against Priests for Life, I wrote:  

Indeed, tax abuse by churches and other tax exempt groups has been part of the organizing strategy that has built the religious right for a generation.

"During the 2004 presidential campaign," the [Boston] Globe reported for example,  "the Republican Party requested that it be sent church membership directories, with a GOP official writing that ''access to these directories is critical" to identifying those ''likely to be supportive of President Bush's compassionate conservative agenda."

The IRS has put in place a new system for fielding complaints. The new system has a panel that is intended to be highly professional, and insulated from partisan political pressures. Complaints are forwarded to the panel, which then votes whether the complaint has sufficient merit to move forward to be investigated. Given the attitudes of people like Pavone, whose sense that his faith-based political program is above the law, the panel can expect to have a busy year.

I also posted a long discussion of the issue when the IRS announced their new focus, and sought to make the matter as plain and simple as possible:

"...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."

Now that we are deep into the election season, here is what CFFC sent to activists about the two groups:

Catholic Answers

Catholic Answers Action is once again distributing a voter guide to influence the 2006 vote which is quite similar to their 2004 endeavor which earned them a mandated forced-reorganization from the IRS. Catholic Answers Action is the 501(c)(4) counterpart of Catholic Answers.  In a legal advisory provided by the conservative James Bopp Jr. posted on their Internet site,

Bopp proclaims that the CAA voter guide is in compliance with the IRS guidelines. Bopp is a usual suspect when it comes to representing and providing legal opinions for antichoice organizations and can be counted on to provide his clients with a liberal interpretation of election and tax law. Bopp also makes the same claims of legality for the election materials produced by Priests for Life.  In the 2004 election cycle, CFFC filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Catholic Answers, a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization, claiming that the organization blatantly violated the U.S. tax code for tax-exempt charitable organizations.  The complaint stemmed from an August 31, 2004, newspaper advertisement containing the text of its "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics" that ran in regional editions of USA Today. In the ad, Catholic Answers called on readers to "eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the five `non-negotiable' issues" and called for readers to give a tax-deductible donation to help distribute the voter guide.

Catholic Answers derives the five `non-negotiable' issues from a selective interpretation of Catholic doctrine and instructs Catholic voters "how to vote." The five "non- negotiable" issues are abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and same sex marriage.  Catholic Answers recently chose to publicize the filing of the CFFC initiated IRS complaint as the reason that it formed Catholic Answers Action-a new 501 (c)(4) organization-which it thinks can engage in electoral activities in 2006.  Because of the IRS findings and the forced reorganization, donations to Catholic Answers Action will not be tax-deductible.  For 2006, the organization has posted a revised version of the voter guide, as well as a new  version for Protestants titled "Voter's Guide for Serious Christians." According to the press release, the Protestant guide discusses "the same five non-negotiables but with a modified argument (dropping papal citations, for example, and adding more biblical citations)." We are reviewing these guides to see if they violate 501(c)(4) restrictions

Priests for Life

Few organizations have been as brazen about their electioneering activities as this Long Island and soon-to-be-Texas-panhandle-based organization. Indeed, the organization was founded on the principle of political involvement. At every national election and in apparent violation of its 501(c)(3) tax- exempt charity status, the group campaigns unambiguously for Republican candidates but takes care not to mention them by name.

PFL promotes a narrowly technical interpretation of the relevant tax law that fundamentally contradicts IRS advice. The tax agency's materials specifically rule out the possibility that 501(c)(3) groups can engage in electoral campaigning by using code words to stand in for candidates' names. Pavone clearly and defiantly stated precisely that view in 2001: When asked what "tangible result" PFL had obtained for the "impressive sums of money" it spent "on the [2000] election," he replied, "The tangible result is now sitting in the White House. While we mentioned no candidate's name, our message was understood by many."

PFL has instructed supporters to vote for the most antichoice candidate from one of the two major parties--in practice, nearly always a Republican, even when a minor-party candidate is more antichoice than either of the two. Electoral realities, PFL told supporters in 2002, mean that "you are not free--to really choose the candidate you want." During the 2004 campaign, Pavone's view on the subject was indistinguishable from those of major- party politicos: "A vote for the `best' candidate who won't win takes a vote away from the better of the others, and hence favors the worst." Expanding that position, Pavone said in 2005 that Catholics should vote for "pro-life" parties, not just individual "pro-life" candidates. "The positions of the party to which the candidate belongs" Pavone states, matters. "By putting that candidate into office, you also help to put his/her party into power," he said.

Earlier this year, Pavone showed what he meant by those remarks: Faced with a Pennsylvania US Senate campaign in which both the Republican and Democratic candidates were antichoice, Pavone joined other conservative clergy in a "training session" that provided a forum for Republican Rick Santorum's taped views but no such platform for Democrat Bob Casey.
As a result of PFL's electioneering, Catholics for a Free Choice has challenged PFL's tax status with the IRS, on the bases of its prohibited campaigning for "pro-life" candidates and its violation of the IRS ban on material that "invites its audience to compare a candidate's positions with the organization's own views." One such challenge is pending at this writing. When Pavone found out about this action, he wrote in his August 7 web log under the title, "A Gift to `Catholics' for a Free Choice" that "every day from now until Election Day, which is Tuesday, November 7, I'm going to do something extra, that I wouldn't have otherwise done, to echo the message that we have to elect pro-life candidates at every level of government."

While the IRS does not inform those who report violations of tax law as to the outcome of the investigation, one thing is clear: Since CFFC reported PFL to the IRS in May, Pavone has gone from near regular postings on his web log to much more intermittent ones and his language has changed significantly.

Take this entry from April 24 where he writes, "We will repeat and intensify this year all we did in the previous election cycles. The pro-abortion groups, the liberals in the Church, the over-cautious attorneys, and the people who don't want to see the Church `influencing elections' can yell and scream all they want. In fact, I invite them to. It won't make a shred of difference. We will move forward with more boldness than ever before," and compare it to his more recent writings where he acknowledges that his personal endorsement of candidates "won't be paid for by Priests for Life or communicated through Priests for Life channels. They will be made and paid for by me as a private citizen, but speaking quite publicly."

Incidentally, in his web log post for September 1, Pavone proclaims that "After this Labor Day weekend, we'll hear more than ever about Elections 2006." We can hardly wait.

Indeed, hopefully, CFFC's activists kept an eye on Pavone's active support for disgraced former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry's campaign for state senator in Florida.  As Moiv, here at Talk to Action observed:  

Yes, the tax-exempt status of religious organizations forbids overt campaigning for individual candidates. And Frank Pavone is Priests for Life. But what does that matter to a man whose contempt for federal law runs so deep that his reaction to the FACE Act -- which outlaws the violence he claims to disavow -- was to set it on fire?

has been a central feature of their political strategy for a generation.  

It is a good thing that groups that play by the rules are demanding that the IRS ensure that the playing field stays level.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Sep 12, 2006 at 03:02:12 AM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (330 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (180 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (99 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (93 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (106 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (127 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (115 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (79 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (228 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (55 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (154 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (173 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (53 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (55 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (210 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (241 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (88 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (172 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (143 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (141 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (151 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (145 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (125 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (186 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (144 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (83 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (189 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (77 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (107 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (105 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.