The ongoing scandal over the Internal Revenue Service’s heightened scrutiny of Tea Party groups took another twist yesterday when evangelist Franklin Graham complained that the ministry founded by this father, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), was also investigated by the tax agency.
Graham wrote a letter to President Barack Obama griping because, he claimed, the IRS sent agents to the North Carolina offices of the BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse, a charity Graham runs, to investigate claims that the ministries had waded into partisan politics.
Graham is trying to make himself look like another victim of a run-amok IRS. Nice try, but it won’t work. The two situations are quite different.
I disagree with the politics of the Tea Party, but it sure looks like some of these organizations have legitimate grounds for complaint. These groups had applied for tax-exempt status and were being subjected to additional hurdles and onerous paperwork that was not applied to similarly situated organizations. That’s clearly unfair.
Graham, by contrast, has no valid reason to complain. His ministries are already tax exempt. As a condition of keeping that exemption, they are required to refrain from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.
Yet the Graham groups don’t seem to want to follow those rules. Graham concedes that he has in years past used the BGEA to send messages to donors advising them to support “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.”
Furthermore, in 2012, Franklin Graham arranged for his father to meet with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and endorse him. The senior Graham told Romney, “I will do all I can to help you,”
Shortly after that, the BGEA began using the ministry’s tax-exempt funds to pay for full-page ads in newspapers.
They featured Billy Graham stating, “I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Gee, which candidate do you think the Grahams wanted people to support for president? Could it be Romney who opposed same-sex marriage and not Obama who favors it?
Franklin Graham is now complaining to the media that he was targeted by the IRS. Well, in light of those ads he should have been. My only regret was that the IRS didn’t yank his ministries’ tax-exempt status.
One more thought about this: Note that Graham wrote his letter of complaint to President Obama. Why? The president does not sit around and personally sign off on every policy the tax agency undertakes.
Despite the ravings of the far right who have taken to comparing Obama to President Richard M. Nixon, who famously used the IRS to harass his political enemies, there has been nothing so far connecting Obama to the IRS’s actions. As a matter of fact, federal law bars such presidential intrusion into tax agency activities.
If Graham has a beef with the IRS, he needs to take it to the top officials of that agency, not the White House. So why did Graham write to Obama? Probably because he’s trying to embarrass the president and drag him into the scandal.
In other words, this feigned outrage is just more partisan politics from Franklin Graham.
P.S. For more on the IRS scandal, check out AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn’s op-ed on “The Huffington Post.”