IRS Urged to Move Against Christian Coalition for Violating Tax Exemption

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 17, 1998

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Citing newly available evidence of widespread abuse of federal election laws, People For the American Way Foundation is urging the Internal Revenue Service to reject the Christian Coalition’s request for tax exempt status and begin steps to collect nine years’ worth of unpaid taxes and interest.

In a letter to the IRS today, PFAWF cites evidence that the Christian Coalition has engaged in “clearcut, serious violations” of election laws. That evidence, which is gradually moving into the public record as part of legal filings in the two-year old FEC lawsuit against the organization, shows widespread collusion and cooperation by the Christian Coalition with political campaigns. The evidence amassed on the Christian Coalition’s activities also clearly indicates that it has violated the IRS rule that prohibits tax exempt 501(c) (4) organizations from making political activity their primary purpose.

“Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition is playing a brazen game of ‘anything goes’ with the election laws and the IRS rules, and they’re doing it with what amounts to a subsidy from the taxpayers,” said Carole Shields, People For the American Way Foundation President. “If the Christian Coalition wants to participate in politics, they should be held to the same rules that apply to everyone else.”

Despite the growing evidence of wrongdoing, the Coalition has continued to operate under a provisional tax exemption granted in 1989, while the organization’s request for permanent tax exempt status remains unresolved.

Under federal election laws, a nonprofit organization may not coordinate or in any way work with or at the suggestion of federal candidates, their campaigns, or their agents in preparing, determining the content of, and distributing their voter guides. In fact, the only permissible contact is that an organization may write to federal candidates asking them to respond to a questionnaire on which their voter guides will be based and candidates may respond to the questionnaires in writing.

The information collected and released today by PFAWF, which represents only the small portion of the evidence that has become publicly available to date, shows numerous, egregious violations. The public documents, which only cover campaign activities up to 1994 so far, show the Christian Coalition crossing the line, time and again, into illegal actions. For example, the list of violations submitted to the IRS includes

  • A strategy memo from Reed to Bob Teeter of the Bush/Quayle Campaign noting that “[v]oter scorecards distributed in the churches prior to the election informing churchgoers where the candidates stand on the issues” would help the campaign “elimin[ate] the Perot option” for conservative, evangelical voters by informing them of Perot’s positions on issues including abortion, the Gulf War, Medicaid, Society Security, gun control, and others.
  • In the last off-year elections in 1994, Oliver North’s campaign director told the campaign’s political director, Tom Bunnell, that he discussed with the Christian Coalition which issues should be placed on its voter guides to assist the North campaign for U.S. Senate. The discussion covered both issues that would help North with Christian Coalition voters and those that would damage his opponent. The Christian Coalition printed and distributed 1,750,000 of these voter guides in Virginia.
  • In that same campaign, then-Christian Coalition deputy director of education gave the North campaign, free of charge, its list of 1993 GOP convention delegates.
  • A letter from Reed to Teeter asking for a meeting between George Bush and a group of Religious Right leaders and promising a “virtually unprecedented level of cooperation and assistance,” noting that the leaders were “prepared to assist” by “distribut[ing]…40 million voter guides to 246,000 churches.”
  • A list from Pat Robertson to Teeter of “key state leaders” whose “inclusion in the campaign will be critical in winning the enthusiastic support of my grassroots workers both now and in the fall.” Teeter’s reply noted that Robertson’s “help contributed significantly to our primary victories and [his] continued support will be appreciated.”
  • A memo from Reed to Mary Matalin providing questions and suggested answers for an interview of candidate Bush on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club.”

    “The Christian Coalition has blatantly defied the IRS rules and pretended the election laws don’t apply to them, and there’s no reason to think they’re doing anything differently today,” said Shields. “It’s time to stop this abuse.”