House votes to make churches dark money PACs

One of the greatest atrocities against the U.S. Constitution and America as it was created was foolishly providing churches with tax exemption with one simple requirement they refuse to abide.

As much as Americans complain about the filthy rich and corporations not paying their fair share of tax, it is curious there is no outrage about religious groups paying no amount of tax or contributing anything of value to society. Oh, it is true the “faithful” boast about the church’s “good works,” but those works are mandated by the faith for entrance into eternal bliss, or some such absurd notion. “Good works” are alleged to be their own reward for “real” followers of Christ.

It has been on the religious right’s wish list for decades, but now those “good works” entail actively funding Republican candidates and campaigning from the pulpit for more Republican “good works” enriching the wealthy and punishing non-compliance with evangelical edicts. In addition, Republicans have provided wealthy donors and dark money groups with a nearly foolproof means of avoiding campaign finance regulations with a value-added bonus of deducting campaign contributions as “charitable donations to a tax-exempt church.”

The religious right has revolted against the Johnson Amendment since its inception in 1954 because without their political activism in support of Republicans, they would be incapable of installing anti-women and anti-gay cretins in office. They wanted their tax exemption and the ability to campaign from the pulpit – which is exactly what the Johnson Amendment prohibited until now.

Although House Republicans did not vote to repeal the dreaded amendment, they did vote to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from taking action against churches and clergy that violate the rule with veritable impunity. Every year for the past five years on so-called “pulpit freedom Sunday,” over a thousand evangelical churches recorded clergy campaigning from the pulpit and then sent the video records directly to the IRS – daring them to take action. The goal was to initiate a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court to give the evangelical conservatives an opening to strike down the Johnson Amendment as unconstitutional. It is ironic because giving churches taxpayer money is contrary to the Separation Clause in the First Amendment and seems patently unconstitutional. And yes, tax-exemption for churches is giving religious groups free taxpayer money as much as the obscene “faith-based initiative” atrocity is giving churches free taxpayer money.

Now, with Trump demanding that the IRS give churches what they want, something he promised before his poorly-attended inauguration,  and House Republicans voting to make it illegal for the IRS to hold churches accountable to their sacred agreement as non-profits; churches will be the ideal dark money PACs. Remember, donations to political campaigns or PACs and candidates are not deductible and are limited by law. However, donations to religious organizations are deductible and likely unlimited.

What that means is that wealthy donors like the Koch brothers can donate to churches that will funnel the money to the campaign coffers of Republican anti-choice and anti-gay candidates; and they would be tax-deductible unlike any other form of the Kochs’ political giving. It also means “dark money” donors will be able to conceal those contributions from the prying eyes of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and especially the Internal Revenue Service. As Matthew Bulger at The Humanist noted:

Donations to churches for political ends would be anonymous, unlike most other forms of political giving.  This is especially concerning because while most 501(c)(3) groups must file a Form 990 with their tax return, which provides some information about the group and its activities, churches are exempt from that reporting requirement. As a result, their political spending would be nearly impossible to track.”

Moreover, the recently announced Treasury Department rule allows certain tax-exempt organizations, including politically active nonprofit groups like churches, to conceal the identify of their donors to tax authorities ensuring an unlimited, and unchecked, supply of dark money in campaigns. If anyone still believes there is an ounce of fairness in America under Republican rule, they are a moron.

As an aside, it is difficult to believe that this Treasury Department action was not enacted, at least in part, to protect groups like the NRA from reporting that Russia paid the gun-zealots to campaign and advocate for Trump and his gun-crazed GOP cohorts during the 2016 general election.

As Politico noted, the Republican House legislation “amounts to a backdoor way around the so-called Johnson amendment,” but it is so much more. It portends nothing good for America’s waning democracy and all but guarantees that the religious right’s crusade to install more GOP theocrats in high places will proceed with the utmost expediency.

These Republican actions on behalf of churches, and the permanent political supremacy of Republicans, certainly have the potential to be a greater attack on democracy than the dreaded Citizens United ruling. It does not necessarily mean that every church in America will be holding weekly Republican campaign rallies, but it does give evangelical clergy the freedom to promote candidates that share their Dark Age mentality with a captive audience every Sunday. And, coupled with the recent Treasury Department ruling, it will give wealthy donors and dark money groups all the cover they ever hoped for without abolishing all campaign finance regulations.

The concept of giving churches tax exemption, and by extension free taxpayer money, is an honest-to-dog abomination; and it is contrary to the intent of the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s Framers. Why so many Americans believe church tax exemption is sacrosanct is beyond comprehension; likely a fair amount of the blame rests with the media and politicians who refuse to alert the people that they are giving churches free welfare to the tune of over a hundred-million dollars every year. Of course the ignoramus public falls for the tired argument that the church and clergy provide “special” benefits to society, but they never consider that nurses, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, soldiers, and public service workers all provide a benefit to all of society and they all pay taxes; a portion of which is flowing directly to churches.

It is an honest-to-dog travesty that large and small communities across America are struggling to find funding for services like clean water, law enforcement, schools, and dependable roads while churches avoid paying anything for the same roads, clean water, schools, law enforcement and firefighters the rest of the population funds. While discussing exactly what “religious freedom” entailed at the nation’s creation, Founding Father and third President Thomas Jefferson said:

No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

Nearly two-and-a-half centuries later, not only are all Americans compelled to support religious worship, places and ministries by government fiat, they are soon going to compelled to comply with the evangelicals who now have all the tools they need to create their theocracy – a theocracy that is being partially funded by the poor unwitting American people.

Image: Patheos

House Bill Will Make Churches Dark Money Super PACs

 

Republicans made a sneaky move on Thursday to give their religious right devotees a long sought after gift that further erodes the Separation of Church and State as well as provide the ultimate dark money cover for Republicans’ corporate donors. It is another monumental gift to special interests and the wealthy; a religious super PAC completely immune to the IRS and FEC auditor’s prying eyes.

As is their wont, House Republicans passed what’s been labeled a “megabus” spending bill on Thursday that is better labeled reverse Robin Hood legislation; it takes from the poor and infirm and gives to the rich. For the evangelical right, the Republican bill is two-fold gift in allowing churches to receive and funnel “unlimited dark money to Republican campaigns” as well as to campaign from the pulpit free of IRS interference. According to the tax code, “tax exempt “charitable” non-profits are forbidden from inserting themselves into campaigns, and currently that prohibition stands for all non-profits including those representing religion.

The House spending bill includes a world of hurt for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamp recipients with significant cuts to help pay for tax cuts for billionaires. But tucked away in the spending bill is a rider with a provision making it nearly impossible for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the “Johnson Amendment.” The “rider” stops funding attempts by the IRS Republicans, and Trump, claim are unfair attempts to “penalize churches that violate tax law by engaging in explicit political action.”

The new provision states that if there are any funds needed to enforce the Johnson Amendment on lawbreaking evangelical churches, it will “require IRS agents to notify two congressional committees, endure a 90-day waiting period, and then obtain an executive sign-off from the IRS commissioner.” It is noteworthy that this is a “special gift” to churches because all other tax-exempt charitable nonprofits that are not faith based will still be subject to enforcement of the law.

Besides opening up worshippers to suffering weekly campaigning from the pulpit for Republican candidates, this is simply another despicable Republican attempt to deregulate campaign finance laws to aid Republicans. Ironically, destroying the Johnson Amendment is “deeply unpopular among people of faith;” evangelical clergy love the idea. In fact, most religious Americans don’t want politics preached from the pulpit,  and “not a single major denomination” likes the idea of neutering the Johnson Amendment.

That “Johnson Amendment” is hated by the religious right as if it was from Satan because it is part of the tax code that prohibits churches from openly endorsing and campaigning for Republicans from the pulpit. The amendment is founded on the Constitution’s framers’ intent to keep church and state separate; it is a concept that Republicans like Jeff Sessions says is “unconstitutional and unhistorical.

However, this crusade to neuter the Johnson Amendment is almost certainly a Republican ploy to open the floodgates of dark money. There are exceedingly stringent rules prohibiting the IRS from auditing churches and according to the IRS, it is also extremely rare that a church is investigated for violating the Johnson Amendment, much less losing their tax-exemption.

A former IRS attorney and current LSU law school professor, Philip Hackney, told ThinkProgress the IRS typically goes to extreme lengths to avoid enforcing the Johnson Amendment. It is almost a mortal sin in America to even utter an unkind word about religion, so naturally daring to take away a church’s free taxpayer money is tantamount to a sin against the evangelical god. Mr. Hackney said:

There have been very few organizations that have lost their exemption. The typical answer was to slap people on the wrist. There’s a real problem when the answer is ‘you lose exemption’ — the IRS would look for any way it could get around making that choice.

According to the Center for Inquiry’s legal director, Nick Little, the Republican ploy is another “double benefit” for places of worship and Republicans. Mr. Little said:

“You could have unlimited dark money flowing to a campaign [from churches] if this gets passed, and there is nothing the IRS could do about it. They would be getting a double benefit.”

Democrats did attempt to remove the “dark money” provision from the spending bill during debate at the sub-committee level, at the full committee level, and on the floor of the House. But Republicans care more concerned about deregulating campaign finance laws and getting free weekly pulpit campaign time than preserving the Constitution’s Separation and Establishment Clauses in the First Amendment.

The Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, Larry T. Decker said:

Members of Congress had ample opportunities to strike [the provision] from this bill; when it was debated at the sub-committee level, at the full committee level, when Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz offered an amendment to cut it from the bill, and when it was on the floor of the House of Representatives. At every point, Congress failed to stand up for a law which has helped maintain the separation of church and state for more than 63 years.”

Like everything Republicans do, sneaking a measure in a spending bill to advance the religious rights’ crusade against the Constitution’s Separation of church and state, and giving ultimate cover for dark money to aid Republicans is highly unpopular. It is also a despicable attack on democracy. The religious right sees it as a sure-fire guarantee to continue electing Republicans without IRS interference, and help funnel dark money for those Republicans unimpeded and out of the Federal Elections Commission’s prying eyes.

For Americans who are not evangelical fanatics, it is another blatant Republican attack on the U.S. Constitution that is beginning to appear as important to Republicans as it to their standard bearer dirty Don Trump. For dark money purveyors like the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, the Republican move is tantamount to abolishing the FEC because with no way to “follow the money” from the Kochs to the churches to Republican candidates, this atrocity fairly decimates what remains of America’s fragile representative democracy; just like the Kochs and Republicans have planned for decades.