IRS Draws a Bead on UCC

They’re just doing their job. Right? Right.

The Internal Revenue Service has notified the United Church of Christ’s national offices in Cleveland, Ohio, that the IRS has opened an investigation into U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s address at the UCC’s 2007 General Synod as the church engaging in “political activities.”

Obama, an active member of the United Church of Christ for more than 20 years, addressed the UCC’s 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Conn., on June 23, 2007, as one of 60 diverse speakers representing the arts, media, academia, science, technology, business and government. Each was asked to reflect on the intersection of their faith and their respective vocations or fields of expertise. The invitation to Obama was extended a year before he became a Democratic presidential candidate.

Nevertheless, the IRS has objected:

Because a reasonable belief exists that the United Church of Christ (“church'”) has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status as a church described in section 501(c)(3) and exempt under section 501(a), this letter is notice of the beginning of a church tax inquiry described in IRC section 7611(a). We are sending it because we believe it is necessary to resolve questions concerning your tax-exempt status as a church described in section 501(c)(3) and in section 170(b)(1)SA)(i) of the Code…

All section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, their integrated auxiliaries, conventions or associations of churches, are prohibited from participating in, or intervening in (including the publication or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, This is an absolute prohibition, violation of which results in denial or revocation of exempt status and/or the imposition of certain excise taxes, if applicable.

The prohibition against political campaign activity does not prevent candidates from being invited to speak at an event of an organization described in section 501 (c)(3). If a candidate is invited to speak in his or her capacity as a candidate, then other candidates running for the same office must also be invited to speak and there should be no indication of support for, or opposition to, any candidate by the organization. Also, the prohibition does not prevent an organization’s officials from being involved in a political campaign, so long as those officials do not in any way utilize the organization’s financial resources, facilities, or personnel and clearly indicate that the actions taken or the statements made are those of the individuals and not of the organization.

Yet here’s how Senator Obama was introduced:

Can you say “bend over backwards?” Besides, the fact that the invitation was offered one year before Obama’s candidacy certainly demonstrates that he was not invited “in his capacity as a candidate,” per the IRS’ letter.

The Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC’s general minister and president, said with accuracy and, imho, understatement,

“The very fact of an IRS investigation, however, is disturbing. When the invitation to an elected public official to speak to the national meeting of his own church family is called into question, it has a chilling effect on every religious community that seeks to encourage politicians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities.”

The question is, who’s chilling whom?

The IRS cpmpletely overlooked this, as recounted in the Dallas Morning News’ glowing and retrospectively hilarious tribute to Karl Rove as its “Texan of the Year” for 2004:

Energizing Christian conservatives was an important part of the strategy. Churches conducted voter-registration drives. The campaign collected church membership directories and recruited volunteers in congregations. With the Bush team’s encouragement, allies put proposals to ban gay marriage on the ballot in 11 states.

This attracted evangelicals and social conservatives in droves. In the pivotal battleground state of Ohio, a quarter of those surveyed in exit polls identified themselves as “white evangelical/born-again Christians” – and most of them voted for Mr. Bush.

So the IRS is making the United Church of Christ jump through its flaming hoops while the 2004 George Bush campaign gets to use churches as the equivalent of, as Dana Milbank put it, labor union halls. But the IRS sat on its hands with that.

Quite an architect, that Karl Rove. He built an entire Executive Branch (and nearly a Judicial Branch) on this man’s image.


Nice work.

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