IRS May Go Beyond Dark Money, Investigate Violations of Tax Exempt Status by Religious Groups

Political watchdog groups are asking the IRS to investigate the tax exempt status of Catholic Bishops and an evangelical group led by preacher Billy Graham for their actions during the lead up to the Presidential campaign.

While the constitutions allows churches to speak on any issue, promoting or opposing specific candidates goes against the rules governing tax-exempt status. That status has afforded churches $145 billion in tax breaks over the past decade. In their complaint to the IRS, groups like the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington argued that many church leaders went too far in their public opposition of President Obama. According to Melanie Sloan, some bishops went as far as telling their members that a vote for Democrats would all but damn them to hell.

Among the leaders who came under the spell of this partisan brand of faith was Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois. He sent a letter to his church’s members warning of,

“intrinsic evils” in the Democratic platform’s support of abortion and same-sex marriage. A vote for someone who promotes such actions “places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy,” he said.

In Peoria, Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky gave a sermon this April in which he said,

Obama, with his “radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path” to that of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and German dictator Adolf Hitler. The homily is posted on the diocese newspaper’s web site.

The issue is not GOP-centric, however, as similar complaints have been fielded by members of Black protestant churches.

According to an October Pew Research Center report, 40 percent of Black Protestants reported hearing about presidential candidates from clergy at church, and the messages overwhelmingly favored Obama.

There is a fine line between expressing concerns about political issues and endorsing specific political candidates. This makes the IRS’ investigation a very difficult task. Nor does the issue only pertain to religious groups. Other watchdog groups have lobbied for investigations of SuperPACs such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which enjoy tax exempt status afforded to them under the premise that they are “social welfare groups,” a comical claim.

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