American Family Association Blatantly Ignores IRS Laws In Promoting Conservative Candidates

church_street-state_avenueEvery election season, religious groups flirt with the line between political action allowed under IRS non-profit guidelines and outright endorsing candidates, which is prohibited by the 501(c)(3) guidelines. This year, the American Family Association, which is a well-known right-wing conservative religious group, has apparently blatantly violated those laws.

My friend Lamar from has forwarded an email to me that was sent to him by a friend. In it, the American Family Association not only violates non-profit rules as set forth by the IRS, it also encourages pastors to endorse specific candidates to their congregations. While this isn’t the first time that conservative religious organizations have flaunted the law governing what they can and cannot do as a non-profit, this may be one of the most flagrant violations yet.

The email was sent out to an unknown number of recipients, requesting that they use the resources provided by the American Family Association to persuade their congregations to vote for candidates picked by the AFA. Below is a screenshot of the email itself dated October 28th, 2014 which was sent from the email address [email protected] with the “reply to” email of [email protected], and the subject line “Pastors, are you ready to lead?”

Screenshot of email from American Family Association.

Screenshot of email from American Family Association. Click thumbnail to view full size.

It also includes a link to this .pdf flyer that states positions to take on issues that don’t fall under the usual opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Screenshot of church bulletin insert suggested by the American Family Association.

Screenshot of church bulletin insert suggested by the American Family Association.

Screenshot of church bulletin insert suggested by the American Family Association.

Screenshot of church bulletin insert suggested by the American Family Association.

American Family Association is, according to their website, a non-profit organization:

American Family Association (AFA), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, was founded in 1977 by Donald E. Wildmon, who was the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Southaven, Mississippi, at the time. Since 1977, AFA has been on the frontlines of America’s culture war. The original name of the ministry was National Federation for Decency but was changed to American Family Association in 1988.

Today, AFA is led by AFA President Tim Wildmon, and it continues as one of the largest and most effective pro-family organizations in the country with hundreds of thousands of supporters. (Source)

As I noted earlier, non-profits are prohibited from endorsing candidates, which the AFA is specifically doing here. From the IRS website, bold emphasis mine:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) 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. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. 

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances.  For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention. (Source)

I then went to the voter guide that was linked in the email and plugged in an address near my local Starbucks coffee shop, and a list of candidates – along with AFA’s rating of them – popped up.

Screenshot from the American Family Association's voting guide as based on my location in Lafayette, LA.

Screenshot from the American Family Association’s voting guide as based on my location in Lafayette, LA.

While the American Family Association does not explicitly endorse a candidate in these races, it outlines how conservative or liberal they consider them to be and reminds people to vote in accordance with their values. When you combine this with asking pastors to distribute church bulletin inserts and direct their congregation to this voter guide, it becomes pretty clear that implied endorsements are being made. Whether or not the IRS decides to investigate the AFA now that they will soon be free to follow up on violations of the 501(c)(3) rules that prohibit non-profit religious organizations from endorsing candidates remains to be seen. However, it is clear that if this is not dealt with, we will see other organizations like the American Family Association flaunt the law even further than in this incident.


Facebook comments

  • TaxPaying American Voter

    Religion in government means they are ready to pay their fair share of taxes! This will be great for the economy

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      federal Gov’t is a Religion. Just look at how many of the ‘Entitlement’ class pray their next check isn’t late?

  • GenerallyConfused

    Unfortunately, it could be argued that they are just wanting to inform the participating congregations. There is no “Vote for” in the email or pamphlet.. so technically, they aren’t breaking a rule of the non-profit. Bending them almost to the point of braking, yes. Should they spend church funds on this? No, absolutely not. There are other, much more important and pressing things a church non-profit could be doing.

    • Expatmom

      I resent that my tax dollars are being used this way.

      • GenerallyConfused

        You and me both, but not a whole heck of a lot to be done about it, unless the tax exempt law is changed to reflect even bending the rules this badly.

      • youcantgetridofmethateasy

        But if I don’t want my Tax Dollars to be used to support Abortionists like Kermit Gosnell, I’m told to shut up and live with it? Sandra Fluke’s Condom’s and the Tax Exempt status of the American Atheists Political Action Committee? Why should you just get your wish and not mine?

      • GenerallyConfused

        By support, do you mean abortions in general? Because federal monies do not go to abortions nor do the go to pay for condoms for individuals. I don’t know where you got that information but I have to disagree.

        Being an atheist is resoundingly different than being Christian. Atheism is not a religion, whereas being part of a christian church is.

        I don’t know where you got that “I want” those things, but I do hope that clears it up for you.

      • Mike Bittner

        Believing in something can be construed to be a religion….just because you don’t believe in a “God”, doesn’t mean you don’t believe in anything. Also, read the ACA and you will see that abortions ARE paid for with tax money. You don’t believe, like most leftists, that money grows on trees, do you? Or that government creates jobs, do you?

      • GenerallyConfused

        Where does it say that I’m either left or right? No where and you are pulling facts from those trees you’re talking about. And in reality, the government does create jobs – ask any government worker or contractor. Without government funds, their jobs would not exist.

        Also, atheism is not a religion as an atheist does not believe in a higher power. I know quite a few atheists who would be very insulted to be told such.

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      Yet the Johnson Amendment is waved with fury and retribution whenever a Pastor steps outside the lines drawn by the much bigger religion, Government.

  • TripleMoon

    Religious institutions should be taxed.

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      As should anyone who files a federal Tax Return. But that doesn’t fit your narrative does it?

  • Macdoodle

    Where is the criminal Lois Lerner when you really need her right?

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      She’s with that Gun Runner Holder hanging out with that murderer Hillary.

  • Russy Rich

    Im a Christian who almost always votes for the GOP. I know that my pastor most of the political views that I share and probably votes the same…that doesn’t mean I want him legislating from the pulpit though. The most he will say is to pray for the President.

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      As do I. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with his every decree. I pray he does not get me killed needlessly.

  • Expatmom

    Rules are for the other people, right?

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      That’s why they’re called the Political Elite.

  • Matt Stewart

    If the government does anything about this, the xtians will be screaming persecution, even louder. Demagogues like Ted Cruz (a charlatan and huckster that I loathe) will run to their computers and tell xtians that the government is violating their freedom of religion. Frankly, I’m tired of it already.

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      Al Gore and Al Franken are also demagogues. And don’t forget Our Dear Leader who is planning to charge twice as much for a former president speech than Billy ‘Big Dawg’ Clinton ever charged.

      • Kataphractos

        Ahh, the vaunted “You do it too-oo” defense. How very original. I bet you can’t even explain why Gore and Franken are demagogues, but are just repeating a word that was used to criticize your “team” without knowing what it means.

      • youcantgetridofmethateasy

        My team? Are you just grasping at straws with that line? Just who or whom is on “my” team? BTW, you didn’t challenge my charge of ‘Demagoguery’ against Gore & Franken. And what’s up with Our Dear Leader and his ‘Lame Duck’ Pen & Phone? Are neither working? Didn’t he promise you a Hope & Change Utopia? Oh, that’s right, he never intended to do so; he’s only here for the Beer (summit). Good for you and the rest of the 51% who voted.

  • Leaning Blue

    I think churches should start getting taxed because apparently they want to, and are involved in politics and I don’t see why my tax dollars should be used in this manner. I’d rather my tax dollars go to charities that don’t involve themselves with women’s reproductive issues or that are hell bent on keeping the LGBT community from enjoying the same legal rights as everyone else..

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      And I think everyone should get taxed, from AARP to Public Sector Unions. You game for that or does your predisposition towards Progressivism prevent you from approving such a move such as Reagan’s Earned Income Tax Credit that was the made comprehensive by Clinton?

  • FD Brian

    you don’t have to tax them, just prohibit anyone from deducting the donation from their taxes.

    • youcantgetridofmethateasy

      So my donations to your neighborhood Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen should be taxed? So donations to the American Red Cross, Tides Foundation and Obama’s PAC Priorities USA should also be taxed?
      Never gonna happen. You won’t let it happen.

      • Kataphractos

        Good thing you don’t actually donate anything then, but rather pretend you do on the Internet. Much like the rest of your online persona, it is fake; a lie made up to sell the narrative of a particular troll-alt account. You aren’t fooling anybody. So why do you seek out negative attention? Is it because your real life is so lonely and depressing that you need to come on the Internet and pretend that you are a ‘somebody’ who does things with his life, besides sit behind a tobacco smoke stained computer screen and whine about things to strangers. Is it a let down when you finally shut down the computer for the night, and you are still stuck in your nowhere life with your boring, meaningless job and still live in your run-down hovel, that you would fix up, if only you could climb a ladder without being winded? I guess it is back to the Internet for you, where you can be the tough-guy, dishing out slick burns and put downs to all of the people you blame for your shitty life. So you should get your trolling in before your depression finally gets the upper hand and the police find your flabby corpse hanging by its neck from a leather belt tied to a doorknob, after you finally take your own life when your anger and misery finally get the better of you.

      • youcantgetridofmethateasy

        “You aren’t fooling anybody” ??? Funny how you’re the only one I seem to offend with my assignment and charge of ‘Progressive’, on a website whose only purpose is to stew that progressive mindset into a big heaping cauldron of primordial genomic soup. So this on-line persona of which you speak; care to elaborate? Just who am I?
        Please don’t be gentle; have at it. Let’s see how well you paid attention in Social Phycology class. Give me the 411.
        TW, that’s a very rich fantasy life you lead. Do you regularly attend Comic-con in a Super-Hero costume?

      • Mike Bittner

        ROFL! @ “Do you regularly attend Comic-con in a Super-Hero costume?” I like this guy!

  • jpe77

    AFA Action is the 501c4 affiliate. They’re allowed to do that sort of stuff.

  • Paul Julian Gould

    Dead on…

    Minor spelling quibble – The word is “flout,” and not “flaunt.” To flaunt means to show off some perceived attribute. Flout is to ignore with disdain. Hence, the AFA is flouting the tax laws.

    Again, well said.

  • Nexus926

    This must be a sensitive subject for the “religious” Right. The trolls are all over this like ants on a donut.

    • Mike Bittner

      Takes one to know one…ass

      • Nexus926

        Ah, yes. Another witty bon mot from the right.

  • Stephen Barlow

    Time for Obama to actually step up and do his job. Close them down and Seize their books, property and assets. Wholesale, in every state in the Union.

    Send a HUGE message. Then lose their hard drives and all their accounting information should they get an injunction from a corrupt RED judge.

    The only way to beat the Disease of Republicanism is by making them eat their own dead.

  • Mike Bittner

    And tell me again how UNIONS can get away with the same while taking money from their members to use for politics whether they want the UNIONS to or not?!?!?!?!