Same Story, Different Name: CFFC Files Complaint with IRS as Catholic Answers Continues to Intervene in Elections and Ignore IRS Regulations
CFFC Files Complaint with IRS as Catholic Answers Continues to Intervene in Elections and Ignore IRS Regulations
Washington, DC—In spite of an IRS investigation into its electoral activity, Catholic Answers is continuing to ignore federal rules governing political activity by nonprofits. Worse, along with its newly minted clone, Catholic Answers Action, the two groups are encouraging other unknowing nonprofits and churches to join them in their legally questionable actions.
In light of Catholic Answers’ continuing disregard for IRS regulations, Catholics for a Free Choice is again asking the IRS to take action to revoke the tax-exempt status of Catholic Answers, Inc. In an October 3 letter to the Internal Revenue Service, Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, writes, “Despite some cosmetic attempts to demonstrate compliance, Catholic Answers appears determined to flout the law governing its activities and demonstrates willful defiance of IRS enforcement efforts.” The electoral activities of Catholic Answers echo those of other similar organizations, Priests for Life and Operation Rescue West: all engage in an election-season pattern of abusing their tax-exempt status by consistently challenging IRS regulations.
After months of Internal Revenue Service investigations, Catholic Answers, a 27-year-old nonprofit, should know better. While observing Catholic Answers’ problematic behavior during the 2004 election cycle, Catholics for a Free Choice filed the first complaint with the IRS with regard to Catholic Answers’ blatant political work. In a public letter to supporters, Karl Keating, founder of Catholic Answers, explained that, throughout 2005 and 2006, the IRS “has been sending us loads of interrogatories to answer” and that they “were forced to hire a top-flight pro-life law firm to represent Catholic Answers and protect our interests.” Despite claiming that the activities related to their Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics were in keeping with IRS regulations, Catholic Answers nonetheless felt the need to create a 501(c)(4), Catholic Answers Action, to take legal responsibility for the production and distribution of its self-proclaimed “overtly political” manual.
In explaining the benefits of this new organization, Keating stated, “Organizations that operate under 501(c)(4) not only can distribute voter’s guides that talk about principles, but they can also name names.” The all-important separation, however, between Catholic Answers, which reaps all the benefits of nonprofit status, and Catholic Answers Action, its decidedly political partner organization, seems to exist only on paper and not in reality.
Catholic Answers itself has wasted no time in vigorously promoting the Voter’s Guide, a flagrant violation of its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Currently, the main central space on the Catholic Answers homepage is dedicated to directing visitors to the Voter’s Guide, located on the Catholic Answers Action Web site. This bait and switch by Catholic Answers is not only disingenuous, it’s illegal.
Moreover, Catholic Answers and Catholic Answers Action are encouraging other organizations to follow them down the same road. To this end there is an “independent legal opinion” posted on the Catholic Answers Web site which claims that organizations that distribute the Voter’s Guide would only be in violation of IRS regulations if they distributed the publication along with communication identifying specific candidates. Given the debatable status of the Voter’s Guide, this advice is simply irresponsible. In this situation, having other organizations, namely churches, carry Catholic Answer’s water—and risk the loss of their own nonprofit status in the process—could be seen as callously self-serving.
It is unacceptable for any organization to reap tax benefits for a charitable mission and then use those resources to engage in illegal political work. Many antichoice religious groups, such as Operation Rescue West, which just lost its tax-exemption as a result of an IRS inquiry, consistently attempt to bend the laws with respect to political activity, especially in the months before elections.
CFFC President Kissling said, “Catholic Answers simply doesn’t respect its colleagues and the public trust it enjoys as a nonprofit enough to comply with the law. We find it heartening that the IRS has been holding organizations like Catholic Answers accountable for abusing their tax-exempt status. There needs to be a clear message: just because a group claims to represent God’s law doesn’t mean they can ignore the laws of the United States.”
A copy of the letter to the IRS is available here in PDF format.