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Catholics for a Free Choice Files IRS Complaint Against Culture of Life Foundation

September 28, 2004

Antichoice organization violates election law with blatant attacks on candidate
Statement of Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choice

Washington, DC—Can a tax-exempt organization flagrantly disregard the prohibitions on its 501(c)(3) status and publicly target a candidate for higher office for defeat?

Today, Catholics for a Free Choice filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Culture of Life Foundation for blatant violation of its charitable status. The Culture of Life Foundation has consistently engaged in partisan attacks against presidential candidate John Kerry, going so far as to call him a “bad Catholic” and publishing materials on its website suggesting that Catholics may not vote for “pro-abortion politicians.” CFFC called on the IRS to “take immediate action to stop the Foundation’s ongoing violation of the law [and] revoke its tax exemption.”

On September 14, 2004, less than two months before what is predicted to be a very close election for president, the Culture of Life Foundation distributed to thousands of people an email labeling candidate John Kerry as a “bad Catholic” and suggesting that voting for him would be “a problem.” The email links to an article written by the Foundation and posted on its website, suggesting that Catholics may not vote for “pro-abortion politicians.” One week later the Foundation wrote and published another article on its web site citing a variety of religious scholars taking the position that Catholics could not vote for a pro-abortion candidate under almost any circumstance.

It is hard to imagine a more blatant intervention in a campaign for public office than the recent materials published by the Foundation. Not only was the email communication and linked article sent to thousands of people in close proximity to the election, but the text of the email blatantly refers to a specific candidate and suggests that Catholics may not vote for him and remain within the tenets of their faith. One cannot credibly argue that the distribution of this material to the readers of an anti-abortion website is not detrimental to John Kerry’s candidacy.

There is precedent to revoke the tax exemption in circumstances such as this. In Branch Ministries v. Rossotti, a church lost its tax exemption because it published an advertisement shortly before an election, mentioned a particular candidate by name and used religious principles to suggest that people can not vote for that candidate.

The Culture of Life Foundation case is even more egregious as it targeted an audience likely to agree with the Foundation’s position while in Branch Ministries, the article simply went to all readers of a national newspaper.

This election season has seen unprecedented violations of tax exempt statutes by conservative Catholic organizations. This is the third such complaint CFFC has had to file with the IRS, and we fully expect that we will need to file several more before the 2004 election.

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 the Culture of Life Foundation’s direct engagement in political activity and to consider revoking the tax-exempt status of this and any other organization that violates the law.