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Is Calling Obama a Pimp Enough to Raise IRS Scrutiny?

September 5, 2008 · 13 comments

Perhaps. It depends on who you are and exactly what you’re saying…

Take Pastor James David Manning of Atlah World Ministries, for example. The IRS won’t advise whether is being investigated or not. But it is clear that Pastor Manning is generating some publicity for his statements earlier in the year, in which he repeatedly calls Senator Barack Obama a “Mack Daddy” and says that he has pimped white women and black women (yes, he made a distinction as between the two) in an effort to get his campaign started. In that sermon, he further refers to Obama as trash, Obama’s father as “African in heat father” and Obama’s mother as “a trashy white woman” before later referring to Obama as an “emissary of the devil” – yes, this all from a man who professes to be a man of God.

Later in the sermon, which Manning posted on Youtube (you can watch it below), he touts President Clinton for pumping money into Manning’s Harlem community – and admonishes the community for not taking care of the quarter billion dollar contribution. Manning is otherwise opposed to gentrification of Harlem; the ATLAH stands for All the Land Anointed Holy, his name for Harlem.

Manning doesn’t stop there. In another sermon, Manning further goes on to emphasize that Obama is “not black” but “white trash.”

A watchdog group, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, noted the video and filed a formal complaint with the IRS. The IRS has not confirmed whether Manning or Atlah are currently under investigation – but I’m betting that they are.

But wait, it’s okay to bad mouth Obama, right? Or McCain? Or Palin? Or Biden?

Sure it is, if it comes from you or me as private citizens. But tax-exempt organizations – including churches, schools and purely public charities – may not endorse candidates, raise funds for candidates or distribute statements for or against candidates.

In other words, whether you’re Pastor Manning speaking from the pulpit, Joe Paterno, Coach of Penn State University’s football team on the field or Gail J. McGovern, President and CEO of the American Red Cross speaking from the front lines of natural disasters, your speeches, articles and appearances will be subject to scrutiny (to be clear, the last two folks are merely examples of high profile leaders of tax exempt organizations and are not examples of folks who have said anything inappropriate with respect to the elections). Tax exempt organizations are aware of the rules that govern them – and most have guidelines in place to remind employees and representatives of the dangers of ignoring the rules against politicking. The ramifications, if such rules are broken, can be severe, including loss of tax-exempt status.

This isn’t the first controversy surrounding politics and churches to hit this election season. Earlier, Obama’s church was investigated by the IRS (and later cleared) after Obama was asked to speak at the church during the presidential primaries. First Baptist Church of Buena Park Pastor Wiley Drake was likewise investigated after he formally endorsed Mike Huckabee for President on church letterhead (and later prayed that those who objected to his endorsement would die). And who could forget Bill Keller of liveprayer.com who advised his followers that a vote for Mitt Romney was a vote for Satan because, as he wrote, “ROMNEY GETTING ELECTED PRESIDENT WILL ULTIMATELY LEAD MILLIONS OF SOULS TO THE ETERNAL FLAMES OF HELL!!!

Attempts to bring religion into politics have heightened, not decreased, despite the IRS’ efforts during this presidential campaign to remind tax exempt organizations of their responsibilities to follow the rules. With increased visibility via the internet, my guess is that such organizations will become even bolder in their approach.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Miranda September 5, 2008 at 1:43 pm

I find it interesting how often “political” speech in some of these churches is alarmingly close to “hate” speech. My own LDS church issues statements, regularly, to be read to the congregation, reminding everyone that politics should not be discussed in church, and that congregational lists should not be used for purposes other than those strictly related to church.

Of course, the recent flap of Prop. 8 in California may cause trouble for the LDS church if the leaders aren’t careful to toe the line.

2 Kristen King September 5, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Interesting that these churches seem to overlook the fact that Jesus avoided political involvement. It was kind of a big theme, you know? Yet here they are, politicking from the pulpit. Sigh.

3 Vic Bottomly September 5, 2008 at 4:11 pm

“But tax-exempt organizations – including churches, schools and purely public charities – may not endorse candidates, raise funds for candidates or distribute statements for or against candidates.”

One little quibble. The above is true for 501(c)(3) organizations, but 501(c)(4) organizations (also tax exempt) can engage in political campaigns and lobbying, as long as it is not the primary purpose of the organization (facts and circumstances, typically a 50% plus test). The primary difference between the two is that contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are not deductible.

Coincidentally, Tax Prof Blog today has a link to a concise article on these organizations:

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2008/09/aprill-tax-issu.html

4 Vic Bottomly September 5, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Kristen: “Interesting that these churches seem to overlook the fact that Jesus avoided political involvement.”

Quite right. But Jesus did call Herod “that fox.” (Luke 13:32). Happily, this issue wasn’t a problem for him because (1) he wasn’t taking tax deductible contributions and (2) Herod wasn’t running for anything . . . .

5 Liz Fuller September 5, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Kelly

This was a fascinating read. When you say that the organization could be under scrutiny by the IRS – does that mean that it could lose its tax exempt status? Or could be fined? What are the potential consequences of this type of abuse?

Thanks for the informative article – and the eye catching title that brought me here!!

Liz

6 Peter September 5, 2008 at 11:36 pm

Forget about separation of church and state. How about separation of head from shoulders.

They outta guilliotine this dude.

But seriously, controversy gets attention and that’s all this nutmouth is trying to do.

As for tax-exempts doing illegal lobbying, why don’t we start with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition and the NAACP. Does anyone really believe these are politically neutral organizations?

7 Anne Wayman September 6, 2008 at 9:00 am

Well, Peter, neither the Rainbow Coalition nor the NAACP seem to be 501C.3s so it doesn’t matter, in terms of tax law, that they are anything but politically neutral.

The thing that bothers me the most is that when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s and 70s there was a clear separation between church and state. As the evangelicals have deliberately moved into politics, that distinction is under attack. We’ve now got tax money going to “faith based” organizations and even Obama supports that… the Bill of Rights seems to be disappearing at an amazing rate, with very little concern by anyone.

8 Peter September 7, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Anne,

It is not just 501(c)(3) organizations that are prohibited from engaging in lobbying activities.

In fact, the IRS has already questioned the NAACP’s lobbying activities as a potential violation of it’s tax exempt status. Read this

NAACP Tax Status Questioned

As for your concerns about the erosion of separation of church and state, I don’t see that as a big threat to our people or our constitution. In fact, I think it’s a red herring thrown out there by those who oppose religion in general.

Separation of church and state does not mean that the church cannot influence politics. The first amendment ensures that it can.

The founders concerns went in the other direction: They didn’t want the government establishing a national religion.

Pastors, Priests, Rabbis and Imams have personal views about public policy and their views are no less entitled to expression than are the views of a secular person.

Having said that, I do agree that organizations that are subsidized by the government (especially Churches) through the grant of tax-exempt status be prohibited from engaging in lobbying activities.

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