Target: Doug Shulman, Commissioner of Internal Revenue
Goal: Remove tax exempt status from churches that endorse political candidates
In the last few weeks, many churches have started publicly endorsing presidential candidates, disobeying the law that prohibits nonprofit organizations from making political endorsements if they want to remain exempt from paying taxes. The IRS normally investigates and audits this obvious abuse of the law, but the IRS has recently admitted to ignoring reports of these violations because the agency claims to have no one with enough authority to approve the audits. The IRS must start investigating violations of the law and require those law-breaking churches to start paying taxes.
Several years ago, a group of pastors created an annual event where churches intentionally break this law in hopes of having the IRS alerted to the violation. The pastors consider the law an assault on their right to speak freely, and they hope to have the issue eventually brought to court to defend the right to express political views during sermons. The IRS is aware of over 1,500 instances of the law being broken that they have yet to pursue. Meanwhile, the government is losing billions of dollars because these organizations receive donations without having to report them or pay taxes.
Although not originally meant to separate church and state, the law is now seen as protecting that separation and the IRS is allowing churches to get away with unacceptable behavior. The churches that intentionally break the tax law see it as an attack on Christianity and a violation of freedom of religion, instead of a law meant to keep nonprofit organizations separate from politics. If it is eventually concluded that religious groups will be permitted to express political views, they should no longer be considered nonprofit organizations.
In addition to having the power to illegally influence the upcoming election, by not investigating these violations the IRS is allowing churches to hold on to tax dollars that could instead be used to help local economies. It is inappropriate for churches to be attempting to sway voters, and it is unfair for the churches to behave like political campaigns while still reaping the benefits of being considered nonprofit organizations. The IRS has been avoiding this important job for several years and it is time that the agency put an end to the violations.
Dear Commissioner Shulman,
Recently, many churches have started endorsing political candidates as a way of questioning the fairness of the current law that prohibits nonprofits from making these endorsements, and the IRS has done nothing to stop these obvious violations.
Because the IRS has not been investigating, these organizations are keeping billions of dollars in tax money that could otherwise be spent on improving neighborhoods around the country. It is urgent that these investigations take place because of the possibility that the endorsements could unfairly influence the outcome of the upcoming election.
I am asking that you resolve the issues that are preventing your agency from auditing churches that have broken the law so that the presidential election can be decided fairly, and cities start receiving the tax money that these organizations owe them.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Martin_PHX via Flickr.