Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate reports that a Georgia church gave cash donations to a state legislative candidate in violation of federal tax law.
Americans United, a national church-state watchdog group, said financial disclosure forms filed with the Georgia state government by Rep. Pamela Bohannon say the First Assembly of God in Warner Robins, Ga., made a $1,000 donation to Bohannon in her 1998 campaign and a $1,000 donation to her current reelection effort.
In a letter to the IRS today, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said, "If this account is accurate, these church contributions are a clear and flagrant violation of federal tax law...I urge you to investigate the church's actions and take appropriate measures."
Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits nonprofit organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office.
The IRS has a "zero tolerance" policy for violations. In 1995 the federal agency revoked the tax exemption of a New York congregation that paid for newspaper advertisements against presidential candidate Bill Clinton during the 1992 race for the White House. (The congregation, known as the Church at Pierce Creek, was reported to the IRS by Americans United.)
On May 12 of this year a federal appellate court unanimously upheld the IRS action.
Said AU's Lynn, "When people give money to churches, they expect it to be spent on religious and charitable projects, not partisan politicking. It is illegal and unethical for church money to be spent on electioneering."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents some 60,000 members, as well as chapters and affiliated entities in all 50 states.