Friday, September 15, 2006

Religious group illegally advocating for GOP State House candidate

Over in Oregon's 30th House District, constituents have been recieving phone calls asking if folks will put up a lawn sign on behalf of GOP candidate Everett Curry. Curry is running for an open seat against Democrat David Edwards.

This is no great shakes on its face. Its common practice to cold call people in a district in an attempt to garner their support.

The funny part about this call however was that it appears to have come from a tax-exempt religious organization. That would make it illegal.

Here's the story as it came to me:

Got this message last night (September 13-emphasis Carla) at 7:08 from 503-263-6140 - real person -
woman. Caller ID says "unknown name."

"Hello. I am calling on behalf of the Oregon Right to Life. We are
calling on behalf of Everett Curry, pro life candidate running for the
Oregon Legislature. If you would be willing to put up a lawn sign in
support of Everett Curry, please call 503-640-1088. Thank you for
supporting Everett Curry."

A check of that phone number shows that it belongs to a church organization in Canby:

Bob Cryder Team Ministries
P.O. Box 1065
Canby, OR 97013
503-263-6140 (Fax: 503.263.6361)

(Is it merely coincidence that this group is in the same town as GOP Majority Leader Wayne Scott?)

I wanted to verify that this group was indeed tax exempt. So I called Victoria Cox, the public information guru at the Attorney General's office. Cox informed me that the state doesn't require all tax exempt groups to file their status. But if they had and they were set up as a religious group, they'd be tax exempt.

So we did a check with the Secretary of State's Corporate Division search engine and voila! Bob Cryder Team Ministries is registered as a religious organization. Oddly, this group has filed articles of dissolution with the state. Ms Cox assured me that even with those articles and the groups alleged "inactive" status with the state, its illegal under federal law for them to be allowing their phone to be used to advocate for a candidate.

The IRS is crystal clear on this point:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all IRC section
501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious
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.

The IRS says that they are going out of their way to ensure enforcement of violations of this illegal activity. But given how much the Republicans at the federal level keep cutting the IRS, its hard to know for sure how much teeth they have.

Unless of course someone picks this up and files a direct complaint.

Update: 11:27: There's current precedent for yanking the tax exempt status of 501(c)3 groups who flout IRS law:

The Internal Revenue Service this week revoked the tax exemption of an anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue West, after receiving a complaint that it had violated prohibitions on electioneering by nonprofits in 2004.

The group had promised tax deductions for contributions to help defeat the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry.


Update: 2:54PM Another source (warning: registration required) listing Bob Cryder Team Ministries Inc as a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. Thanks to Matthew Singer of Progressive States Network.