In the last few weeks leading up to election day, more than 300 black churches in Virginia have agreed to release a video in which Vice President Kamala Harris urges worshipers to vote after services for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe – a move some experts say violates the law.
Some attorneys suggest the video violates Internal Revenue Service rules for churches exempt from tax under section 501 (c) 3 of the IRS code. It is not clear if any churches have played it yet.
“I believe my friend Terry McAuliffe is the leader Virginia needs right now,” Harris said in the video. “Advance voting has already started, and this is the first year you can vote on Sunday, so please vote after today’s service, and if you can’t vote today, plan to vote. ‘go and vote. “
JONATHAN TURLEY: VP HARRIS ‘MCAULIFFE ENDORSEMENT VIDEO MAY BREACH FEDERAL LAW
Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, cited the law, which extends the tax exemption to entities that “do not participate or intervene in [including the publishing or distributing of statements], any political campaign in the name of [or in opposition to] any candidate for public office. “
He cited the Johnson Amendment, which states that tax-exempt groups are absolutely prohibited from participating or intervening directly or indirectly in any political campaign on behalf of [or in opposition to] any candidate for elected public office.
The law further adds that “contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position [verbal or written] done on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violates the ban on political campaigning activities. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. “
Jean Baran, partner at Holtzman Vogel Baran Torchinsky & Josefiak PLLC, suggested that the law may not apply to the video in question.
“It assumes the church is talking. Are the pastors making the statements or Harris? Baran told Fox News.
Turley rejected this suggestion.
“The current rule… does not simply limit the ban to ‘intervention’,” he told Fox News in an emailed statement. “This includes participation and specific references to the publication or distribution of statements. In addition, the church speaks by presenting the video, especially knowing in advance [as here] that the video will call on worshipers to vote for McAuliffe. He actively seeks to spread this message to the faithful. “
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An election lawyer who spoke to Fox News on condition of anonymity suggested the video likely violated the Johnson Amendment.
“If Kamala Harris specifically supports a candidate and churches show it in their churches, that seems like a pretty clear violation of the Johnson Amendment,” the attorney said. “I think they would show the video and make their speech, basically.”
But even if the video broke the law, it might not result in penalties for the churches involved.
The IRS “has never sued churches for these kinds of violations before,” taking a more generous view of political discourse, “the election lawyer noted. The agency will often consider a pastor’s remarks on an election. as being the personal speech of this pastor, rather than the words of the church, explained the lawyer.
The lawyer also noted that the Biden administration is unlikely to apply the law to sanction Harris or the McAuliffe campaign, which President Biden endorsed.
“How bad does it sound for the Biden administration to start cracking down on black churches?” said the lawyer.
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Baran also noted that the IRS generally doesn’t enforce the law this way.
“I don’t think the IRS enforced the law in the way Turley advocated,” Baran told Fox News. “I don’t know of any church, including an evangelical church, in which a candidate has spoken that has been revoked from tax-exempt status. Turley does not cite an example.”
The McAuliffe campaign did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment. The vice president’s office referred Fox News to the McAuliffe campaign.
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