July 16, 2004

The taxman cometh

United States: The IRS has been asked to investigate televangelist Jerry Falwell after he sent out a newsletter urging his supporters to vote for George W. Bush in the forthcoming Presidential election. The newsletter also asked for donations to an organisation which supports Republican candidates. The complaint was made by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Executive Director, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, said Falwell is thumbing his nose at the IRS. He must not be permitted to use a tax-exempt ministry to engage in partisan politics.

Falwell, in his Falwell Confidential bulletin, wrote, For conservative people of faith, voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush. The alternative, in my mind, is simply unthinkable. To the pro-life, pro-family, pro-traditional marriage, pro-America voters in this nation, we must determine that President Bush is the man with our interests at heart. It is that simple.
Falwell continued, However, simply voting may not be enough. I believe it is the responsibility of every political conservative, every evangelical Christian, every pro-life Catholic, every traditional Jew, every Reagan Democrat, and everyone in between to get serious about re-electing President Bush. That is why I am utilizing this column to urge you to support the Campaign for Working Families, which is headed by Gary Bauer. It is the organization that I believe can have the greatest impact in re-electing Mr. Bush to the Oval Office.

Falwell told the New York Times that the message did not come from his religious organisation, but from a lobbying organisation, and that it represented his personal view. But Falwell published it on his ministry's web site, and it was sent out under the auspices of Jerry Falwell Ministries.

Falwell is using his ministry to urge the election of George W. Bush and other candidates and to implore supporters to make contributions to a PAC whose purpose is to secure the election of Bush and other candidates, Lynn wrote in the IRS letter. I believe this is intervention in a political campaign on behalf of a candidate in clear violation of federal tax law. I urge you to take appropriate action to correct this abuse of the law.

Interestingly, the lobbying organization which allegedly paid for the message, Liberty Alliance, is also tax-exempt and US law prohibits any partisan political activity (such as the endorsement of particular candidates) by any organisation which wishes to take advantage of tax-free status.

The New York Times spoke to Milton Cerny, a Washington lawyer and the former chief of the I.R.S.'s tax-exempt rulings operations, about Falwell's claims that he had the right to say what he wanted from the pulpit of his own church. He told them Even if he claims he is speaking on his own behalf, he is using that pulpit and he is using that church. So he is speaking as the church. And he felt that Jerry Falwell Ministries, and affiliated organisations, might be causing more problems for themselves in future:

The ownership of the Web site is hard to determine. It is widely labeled Jerry Falwell Ministries, which is the name of a charitable religious group he controls. A page on the site for donations by credit card is also labeled Jerry Falwell Ministries, with no information about the tax status of the donations.
In the interview, Mr. Falwell said that the site was owned by his lobbying group, not by Jerry Falwell Ministries. He said the label on the site referred generically to the many ministries he runs. When a visitor makes a donation through the site, he said, the donor can use a comments box to direct it to a specific organization, or his organization directs it where it is needed.
Mr. Cerny said the possibility for confusion between the organizations was also likely to run afoul of the I.R.S. They would take a hard look at it and raise questions, he said.

Falwell has been in trouble with the IRS before, though it seems to have slipped his mind:

Lynn noted that the IRS in 1993 retroactively revoked the tax-exempt status of Falwell's television ministry, the Old Time Gospel Hour, for the years 1986 and 1987 after determining that the group had improperly channeled funds into a PAC supporting congressional candidates.
Falwell is apparently still smarting from that action. On CNBC's Capital Report July 2, AU's Lynn reminded Falwell of his run-in with the IRS. Falwell denied it had ever happened.
Never, Falwell shouted. Never. Never. Not one minute. Not one second. You are wrong.... Never one second did we lose our tax exemption. He later added, You are telling a lie right now, Barry.
In fact, the revocation of the Old Time Gospel Hour's tax-exempt status is a matter of public record. On April 7, 1993, The New York Times reported that the IRS in February of that year revoked the Old Time Gospel Hour's tax-free status retroactively for two years for diverting assets and personnel to a political action committee. Falwell also had to pay $50,000 in back taxes. The federal agency required the ministry to issue a public statement signed by Falwell reporting the settlement.

IRS Should Investigate Partisan Political Activity By Jerry Falwell Ministries, Says Americans United - American United for Separation of Church and State Press Release, 16th July 2004; Citing Falwell's Endorsement of Bush, Group Challenges His Tax-Exempt Status - New York Times (BugMeNot), 16th July 2004 (Thanks Charlie).

1 comment

There was such a provision added to the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (one of those bills designed to do the opposite of what it claims), but it was removed slmost as soon as it appeared after complaints, not only from the likes of Americans United for Separation of Chuch and State, but also the Southern Baptist Convention and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.

By the way, the only reason your anonymous comment was not deleted is because it mentioned something worth checking. It's not as if your employer can tell that you posted from work, is it?

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Evangelism, witnessing and similar activitites go by one name here—advertising, and is no different from spam for viagra, penis enlargement products and pornography. We do not take advertising. If you want to advertise your imaginary friend, please spend your own money on your own web space to do so. Any attempts to use the comments section for advertisements will be deleted, and the perpetrator barred, unless they are particularly stupid, in which case I reserve the right to pinch an idea from Teresa Nielsen Hayden and delete all the vowels.

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This page contains a single entry by Feòrag published on July 16, 2004 10:16 PM.

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