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now Churches, Politics, and the IRS

Allegations of illegal political activities against two conservative Evangelical churches in Ohio ahead of Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary are only the latest in a string of claims accusing some churches and non-profits of abusing their tax exempt status. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has said that the number of investigations of churches for playing politics has increased.

"If you look at the last election cycle [2004], we've had very clear indications that political activity … prohibited political activity by charities and churches was on the rise," Mark Everson, Commissioner of the IRS told NOW.

An IRS report examining political activity by tax-exempt organizations during the 2004 election campaign concluded there was some level of prohibited political activity by nearly three-quarters of the 82 cases reviewed, according to a statement. It added that some one million tax-exempt organizations fall under 501(c)(3) of the tax law.

Everson has said that the vast majority of charities and churches followed the law but added that there was a "disturbing" amount of intervention in the 2004 elections. In light of this, the IRS has vowed to crack down on the practice in the upcoming elections.

The tax code allows churches and other tax-exempt charities to register voters and express views on public issues. But under the law, charities, including churches, are not permitted to endorse a political party or candidate for public office.

Read the tax law as it applies to political activities here

Excerpt from the IRS guide:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.

Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not constitute prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that: (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

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