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Population Research Institute, Inc. “expressly advocates the election of John McCain and the defeat of Barack Obama” in Presidential Election

November 20, 2008

Catholics for Choice Files Complaints with IRS and FEC

Washington, DC—Catholics for Choice today filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over a pre-election edition of Population Research Institute’s Weekly Briefing. Catholics for Choice charged that PRI had committed an egregious violation of the rules governing the behavior of nonprofits in elections and requested that the IRS swiftly strip the organization of its tax-exempt status. In a simultaneous complaint, Catholics for Choice urged the FEC to take action against PRI for violating federal election law.

Population Research Institute’s pre-election edition of its Weekly Briefing email newsletter, distributed on October 30, 2008, urged readers to “vote pro-life” in the election and described in detail how Republican presidential candidate John McCain was “pro-life” and that he had “a perfect pro-life voting record” while his opponent, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, was described as not “pro-life” and as “consistently voting against the unborn.”

Such behavior is not allowed for 501(c)(3) nonprofits, which benefit from the ability to take in tax-free donations from their supporters. Population Research Institute’s actions were a deliberate attempt to skirt the regulations by which every other 501(c)(3) must abide. In Revenue Ruling 2007-41, the IRS explains that “501(c)(3) organization must avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign intervention” and that, “Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate, an organization delivering the statement is at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate.” The October 30 Weekly Briefing was clearly an endorsement of John McCain’s candidacy.

The complaint to the IRS argued, “the facts and circumstances show that PRI has, without a doubt, produced this newsletter in an attempt to intervene in the presidential election in violation of the organization’s 501(c)(3) status. To protect the integrity of the nation’s tax laws, to protect the reputation of the charitable sector, and to prevent other organizations from being led astray by PRI’s bad example, it is essential that the IRS act swiftly to strip PRI of its tax-exempt status.”

In the complaint to the FEC, Catholics for Choice noted that the Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits any corporation from making an expenditure in connection with any presidential election. The regulations include in the definition of such express advocacy “any communication that [u]ses phrases such as…‘vote Pro-Life’ or ‘vote Pro-Choice’ accompanied by a listing of clearly identified candidates described as Pro-Life or Pro-Choice.” This expressly advocated the election of John McCain and the defeat of Barack Obama.

Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien acknowledged in the complaint to the FEC that the expenditure on the violation might be small, but the principles at stake were large. “Failure to act against PRI will encourage other corporations to make similar illegal expenditures, emboldened by the belief that even blatant violations will go unpunished if they can be accomplished at a low enough cost.”

President of Catholics for Choice, Jon O’Brien, commented, “The IRS and FEC should not allow such blatant disregard for election laws to continue. PRI, without a doubt, produced this newsletter in an attempt to intervene in the presidential election in violation of its nonprofit status and federal law. PRI and other organizations are perfectly entitled to advocate for candidates if they so wish, but cannot do so with tax-free dollars. PRI’s charitable status is a privilege, not a right and if they and other organizations wish to participate in the election process, they can do so by renouncing their tax-exempt status.”

Click here to read the complaint to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

Click here to read the complaint to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)

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