A Senate Finance Committee investigation into several high-profile TV ministries went badly off track when staffers recommended that Congress repeal a federal ban on partisan politicking by churches and other non-profit groups, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) announced in 2007 that committee staff would investigate six TV ministries that might have been abusing their non-profit status. A staff memo delivered to Grassley yesterday reports on the findings, including lack of cooperation from four of the six ministries being examined.
But the report also includes a recommendation that the Congress do away with the federal tax law ban on partisan political activity by non-profit groups.
“I have to wonder what these Senate staffers could possibly be thinking with this breathtakingly wrong-headed suggestion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “It’s a sign that this investigation has gone seriously off course.”
Lynn noted that the investigation got under way because of allegations that several high-profile TV preachers were abusing non-profit status by living lavishly while raking in millions tax-free every year. Issues of church-based politicking had not been raised during the investigation.
Lynn said if the ministries were abusing non-profit status, then more accountability and oversight might be in order. Yet Grassley’s staffers have recommended doing away with the “no electioneering” rule, which would only turn these same ministries loose in the world of partisan politics to do what they will with little or no oversight.
“If these multi-million-dollar ministries are already misusing their donations for personal gain, imagine how much more dangerous they would be operating in the world of partisan politics,” said Lynn. “I don’t want to see Pat Robertson and other TV preachers using their tax-exempt empires to give backing to favored candidates, and I don’t think most other Americans want that either.”
Under current federal law, all non-profit groups holding a 501(c)(3) tax exemption are forbidden to intervene in partisan elections. This ensures that money donated to these groups is used for charitable purposes, not political ones.
Scrapping this rule, Lynn said, would open the door to the politicization of America’s religious organizations and wreak havoc with campaign-finance reporting laws.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.