We’ve written a great deal about the impact of independent expenditures on this year’s congressional elections. Most sources of independent expenditures are corporations, and most of the candidates that benefit from these expenditures are Republicans. Not all of the unethical contributions to congressional campaigns are coming from corporations, however, and not all of them are coming in the form of independent financial expenditures.
In Minnesota’s congressional elections, unethical contributions are coming to some candidates – from a church. The Berean Baptist Church is actively campaigning for Republican candidates across the state, including two incumbents, Michele Bachmann and John Kline.
The church’s pastor, Brad Brandon, handed out voter instruction pamphlets that told church members which candidates to vote for in the upcoming elections. Brandon also gave a sermon in which he named the candidates – none of them Democrats – as endorsed by the church. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has petitioned the IRS to investigate the partisan campaigning.
Churches and other non-profit organizations have the right to campaign for particular political candidates if they choose, but that campaigning comes with an obligation. Non-profit groups can’t claim tax exempt status if they endorse political candidates. Donors to political campaigns also aren’t supposed to claim their deductions as tax exempt, as non-profit groups can.
Brad Brandon and the Berean Baptist Church are trying to have it both ways. They’re claiming special tax exemptions for the church as a non-profit organization, but then they’re also acting as if they’re part of partisan political campaigns. They think that they’re above the law, and that they can do whatever they want, just because they claim to speak for their Messiah.
Will the IRS investigate, or will it look the other way and pretend that nothing is happening? The precedent for IRS action is not strong. Increasingly, churches are openly campaigning for political candidates, serving as political party organizations, and keeping their tax exempt status anyway.