Over the Line?

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CBMC.jpgLast week, Tacoma News Tribune political reporter Niki Sullivan wrote a story about an appearance by Washington State’s GOP gubernatorial hopeful Dino Rossi at a meeting of the local chapter of the Christian Businessmen’s Connection. On the strength of an audiotape and a blogger’s post, Sullivan suggested that the not-for-profit had violated the IRS rules banning endorsement of political candidates by 501 (c) 3 organizations. Two days ago, Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote a letter to the IRS calling for an investigation. A prayer was said for Rossi’s campaign, and fundraising envelopes were left on the tables.
As American Jewish Congress legal eagle Marc Stern points out in a forthcoming article in Religion in the News (out in a few weeks, keep your eye on this site), it is precisely through this kind of sequence of events that the IRS is as engaged as it is in scrutinizing not-for-profits. A decade ago, Americans United decided to mount a campaign to get the agency to enforce its rules against political activity by tax-exempt religious entities, and now, with recording devices and blogs ubiquitous (to say nothing of web-posted sermons), any faith-based organization that gets even moderately close to the line is at risk. Which, as the United Church of Christ found out recently, doesn’t mean that it will be found in violation. But no one likes to have The Service (as my lawyer calls it) knocking at your door.