Yesterday Jdories had an excellent diary on the rec list that analyzed a nasty Religious Right voter guide issued by the Pennsylvania Family Institute.
As is often the case with such encounters, there is more to the story. And it is this wider story that may very well make a difference beyond today, as we continue to contend with the power of the Religious Right in general, and as we try to sort out what tax-exempt groups, including and especially churches can and cannot do in relation to candidates and elections. I am not going to try to sort all that out today but simply want to call attention to the ongoing effort of the Religious Right to bend and break the law in this area, and urge people to keep an eagle eye out for violations. There is some useful heads up material below.
The Pennsylvania Family Institute is the state political affiliate of James Dobson's political arm,Focus on the Family Action. PFI has been issuing voter guides since at least 1994, and one year reportedly distributed a million copies. (I wrote about this network for The Public Eye in 1999. PDF). What is unusual this year, is that PFI is using the voter guide (PDF) issued by David Barton's organization Wall Builders rather than making their own. Barton's group was accused of issuing biased voter guides during the primaries this year. Americans United for Separartion of Church and State reported:
In April, Americans United asked the IRS to investigate a biased voter guide issued by Barton’s WallBuilders and distributed by Wildmon’s American Family Association (AFA). It was clearly stacked to steer evangelical voters toward then-candidate Mike Huckabee.
Though tax-exempt groups may put out voter guides, the IRS is clear that voter education may not be biased in favor of one or more candidates.
The guide put out by WallBuilders and AFA distorted the views of the other candidates and relied on outdated information about these candidates’ views on select issues.
Back in April, AU reported,
WallBuilders came up with a new voter guide that is clearly designed to enlist evangelical voters to support Republican presidential candidate John McCain. A small print disclaimer states the guide was 501(c)(3) approved by Liberty Counsel and Liberty Legal Institute, but that means practically nothing considering those are far-from-objective Religious Right operations.
This is the same Wallbuilders guide used by PFI that was the subject of Jdories' diary. Check it out.
As for Liberty Counsel, it is a Christian Right legal group headed Mathew Staver the Dean of the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University School of Law. Uncoincidentally, Liberty Counsel has copies of the voter guides for a number of Religious Right groups posted on its web site. These include the voter guides for the Family Research Council Action; Don Wildmon's American Family Association; Frank Pavone's Priests for Life; the FOF Action affilated Florida Family Policy Council (county and judicial races); and Janet Folger's Faith2Action (includes race specific guides for House races in Florida, Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania; and Senate races in Mississippi, Colorado, North Carolina and Minnesota.
No doubt, there is much fascinating stuff in these guides. Far more than I have the time and expertise to unpack. But here it is for those who need to know.
While the tax code can be complicated in any sector, there is one bright line with regard to churches and elections, everything else is details. The IRS states:
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.
Part of the strategy of the Religious Right for many years has been to bend and break the rules. I have no doubt that this year will be no execption.