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Catholics for a Free Choice Files IRS Complaint Against Catholic Answers’ Partisan Voting Guide

September 20, 2004

Antichoice group violates election law with biased voter guide
Statement of Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choice

Washington, DC—Catholics for a Free Choice today filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Catholic Answers, Inc. for blatant violation of its charitable status. CFFC called on the IRS to exercise its “authority to revoke the tax-exempt status of Catholic Answers and bring an action to enjoin this organization from again distributing this guide through national newspaper advertisements in October.”

On August 31, 2004, the antichoice group published an ad containing the text of its Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics in regional editions of USA Today. In the ad, Catholic Answers called on readers to “eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the five ‘non-negotiable’ issues” and called for readers to give a tax-deductible donation to help distribute the voter guide. Catholic Answers derives the “five non-negotiable issues” from a selective interpretation of Catholic doctrine and instructs Catholic voters “how to vote.”

Additional evidence shows that this guide targets at least one specific candidate: Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry. Karl Keating’s E-Letter of April 13, 2004 states Kerry “flunks the test given in Catholic Answers’ Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics: He is wrong on all five ‘non-negotiable’ issues listed there.” This egregious violation of US tax laws, which prohibit charitable organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, is the latest example of a vicious campaign by various tax-exempt organizations opposed to abortion rights and, by extension, candidates who support these rights.

During this presidential campaign, antichoice activists and organizations have violated both the letter and the spirit of the law. CFFC regularly monitors comments and activities of these organizations to protect the integrity of the election law. As a result, CFFC filed a complaint in May against Operation Rescue West for running an ad in an ultra-conservative national Catholic weekly that asked readers to make a contribution to help “defeat [John Kerry] in November and enable President Bush to appoint a pro-life Supreme Court Justice to finally overturn Roe v. Wade.” Operation Rescue West cited the statements of several cardinals and bishops who have attacked Catholic politicians for their support of a woman’s right to choose and invited the support of readers as they are “going into the middle of a war in Boston” – the ad ran on the eve of the Democratic convention in Boston.

Electioneering by antichoice groups, and even the Catholic bishops, is especially high this presidential campaign with bishops actively opposing Sen. John Kerry. In May 2004, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the IRS against Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Colorado Springs diocese in Colorado. While a handful of bishops have issued statements threatening to deny prochoice Catholic politicians communion, Bishop Sheridan issued the most wide-reaching statement to date when he said he would deny communion to both prochoice Catholic politicians AND Catholics who vote for candidates who are prochoice.

The Catholic church, along with other religious institutions, is a tax-exempt charitable organization. In return for that exemption, religious institutions agree to neither explicitly nor implicitly endorse nor oppose any specific candidate for elected office.

Numerous polls of Catholic attitudes have shown that the positions taken by these groups are not mainstream Catholic positions. The most recent, a June 2004 poll of 2,239 Catholics by Belden Russonello & Stewart and commissioned by CFFC, showed that 83 percent of respondents believe that Catholic politicians are not religiously obliged to vote on issues the way bishops recommend and 61 percent of Catholics support legal abortion.

Charitable status is a privilege, not a right. Organizations are free to educate their members and the public, but must do so within the legal limits of their charitable status. Organizations even have the right to participate in the election process if they choose to renounce their charitable status. What they are not free to do is flout the federal statutes and IRS regulations that govern all charities by endorsing or targeting candidates during an election year.

Catholics for a Free Choice has called on the IRS to investigate Catholic Answers’ direct engagement in political activity and to consider revoking the tax-exempt status of this and any other organization that violates the law.

To read our letter to the IRS, click here.

To read our follow-up letter to the IRS, click here.