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Is the Church of Scientology violating IRS 501(c)(3) by telling voters not to vote for Mark Bunker?

Discussion in 'News and Current Events' started by COS and NOI News, Dec 3, 2019 at 5:40 AM.

  1. Is the Church of Scientology violating Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) by telling voters not to vote for Mark Bunker for Clearwater City Council?

    Today, 12/3/19, Tony Ortega reported:

    Scientologist says the church is telling Clearwater members not to vote for Mark Bunker
    https://tonyortega.org/2019/12/03/scientologist-says-the-church-is-telling-clearwater-members-not-to-vote-for-mark-bunker/

    According to the story, a Scientologist received a blind copy of a mass email from Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney asking the recipients to call Harney "at the OSA office number at 727-467-6860 for a short survey." Thereafter:

    * * * * * BEGIN EXCERPT * * * * *

    When our reader called, they were asked to wait to get Harney herself on the phone. When she did, she asked our reader if they lived in Clearwater. When they said they did, Harney then said that she was reaching out to all local Scientologists to make them aware of an important election coming in March 2020, the election for Clearwater’s mayor and city council.
    Three seats are up for election on the council, Harney explained, but they were especially interested in seat two, and that Scientologists should avoid voting for an “SP” — a “suppressive person,” which is Scientology jargon for an enemy of the church.
    The reader astutely asked Harney to name the SP so they would know not to vote for them, and Harney then said it was Mark Bunker.

    As for who to vote for, our reader tells us that Harney then said that the church couldn’t tell its members who to vote for.

    * * * * * END EXCERPT * * * * *

    The US Internal Revenue Service says:

    https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-p...ion-by-section-501c3-tax-exempt-organizations

    * * * * * BEGIN EXCERPT * * * * *

    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. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

    * * * * * END EXCERPT * * * * *

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    The US Internal Revenue Service similarly explains:

    https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-p...-intervention-by-501c3-organizations-overview

    * * * * * BEGIN EXCERPT * * * * *

    What is the ban on political campaign activity?

    It is a requirement imposed by Congress for the privilege of being recognized as exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

    For an organization to be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) it cannot “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

    * * * * * END EXCERPT * * * * *

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    Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), 26 U.S. Code § 501(c)(3) gives tax-exempt status to:

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/501

    * * * * * BEGIN EXCERPT * * * * *

    (3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

    * * * * * END EXCERPT * * * * *

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    Finally, the Operational Test set forth in the controlling IRS regulation, 26 C.F.R. §1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3)(i) and (iii), provides in relevant part that: (A) "An organization is not operated exclusively for one or more exempt purposes if it is an action organization"; and (B) "An organization is an action organization if it participates or intervenes, directly or indirectly, in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." See:

    https://gov.ecfr.io/cgi-bin/retriev...r=PART&ty=HTML#se26.9.1_1501_2c_3_23_3_61

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    EDITED TO ADD:

    mirele, a commentator on Tony Ortega's blog, found the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Branch Ministries v. Charles O. Rossotti, Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service:

    https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-dc-circuit/1348138.html

    The Court of Appeal summarized the facts as follows:

    "Branch Ministries, Inc. operates the Church at Pierce Creek (“Church”), a Christian church located in Binghamton, New York. In 1983, the Church requested and received a letter from the IRS recognizing its tax-exempt status. On October 30, 1992, four days before the presidential election, the Church placed full-page advertisements in USA Today and the Washington Times. Each bore the headline “Christians Beware” and asserted that then-Governor Clinton's positions concerning abortion, homosexuality, and the distribution of condoms to teenagers in schools violated Biblical precepts. The following appeared at the bottom of each advertisement: This advertisement was co-sponsored by the Church at Pierce Creek, Daniel J. Little, Senior Pastor, and by churches and concerned Christians nationwide. Tax-deductible donations for this advertisement gladly accepted. Make donations to: ?The Church at Pierce Creek. [mailing address]."

    As a result, "the IRS revoked the Church's section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status on January 19, 1995, citing the newspaper advertisements as prohibited intervention in a political campaign."

    The Court of Appeal rejected the Church's defense of selective prosecution and affirmed the revocation of tax-exempt status:

    "Because the Church has failed to establish that it was singled out for prosecution from among others who were similarly situated, we need not examine whether the IRS was improperly motivated in undertaking this prosecution.

    III. Conclusion

    For the foregoing reasons, we find that the revocation of the Church's tax-exempt status neither violated the Constitution nor exceeded the IRS's statutory authority.   The judgment of the district court is therefore

    Affirmed."

    What the Church did in Branch Ministries was far more public than what allegedly occurred here, but the decision confirms the principle that a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization cannot work or speak in opposition to a candidate for office.
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