The Virginia governor’s race between stalwart Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin is one that is shaping up to be a critical battle over some of the most pressing and controversial social and political issues of the day, from abortion to voting rights to health care to the role parents ought to play in the public school system.
The Democrats are pulling all the stops out to back McAuliffe, who previously served one term as Virginia governor, in what is so far a very tight election.
And, it appears, two of the party’s most prominent figures have been so hasty to leverage whatever voting bloc they can that they may have risked the tax-exempt status of hundreds of black churches to do get their endorsement messages out.
This includes Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris, who has not had very much time to either visit or do anything at all about the crippling humanitarian crisis on our southern border, has had time to cut a lot of videos lately, including an endorsement for McAuliffe which is set to be played in 300 churches across the state until Election Day on Nov. 2.
In the video message, the Vice President characteristically touts her own church background before expressly urging congregants to vote, telling them she knows that they “will send Terry McAuliffe back to Richmond.”
NEW — More than 300 Black churches across VA will hear from @KamalaHarris btwn Sun. and November 2 in video message that will air during morning services as part of outreach effort aimed to boost @TerryMcAuliffe.#VAGOV
— Eva McKend (@evamckend) October 16, 2021
She’s not the only one.
Failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has been visiting churches to stump for McAuliffe to encourage congregants to vote for the Democratic candidate.
Pointing to the fact that she was raised by “not one, but two pastors,” the Democratic darling voiced her support for McAuliffe at Second Calvary Baptist Church, where The Associated Press noted she and all other attendants were required to show their vaccine card upon entry.
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) October 17, 2021
At the Faith Deliverance Center, Pastor Sharon Riley thanked Abrams for losing the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election as Riley could now see that “God had a plan” for Abrams.
The plan, apparently, included pushing the limits of federal tax law while roaming the country to stump for other Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the hopes that they’d be more successful in their political aspirations than Abrams has been.
The vehemently pro-abortion Abrams said that she used to shy away from mixing the Bible with politics (which we can only imagine was for insanely obvious reasons) but she now views it as “one of the most intense political texts ever written.”
Wow. Sometimes you just have to thank the good Lord that people like Abrams are going to have to give account for every idle word they utter one glorious day, because goodness gracious, where to start on this wild statement from a political candidate whose near-entire platform is firmly founded on counter-biblical immorality?
“Voting is an act of faith,” she told church members. “I need you to do the job.”
Sounds like a pretty overt endorsement to vote for a particular candidate, don’t you think?
You see, here’s the thing: 501(c)3 status churches, like the ones airing Harris’ endorsement video and hosting Abrams’ endorsement speeches, are expressly prohibited by federal law from participating in political endorsements, as noted by constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley last week.
The IRS warns that such violations will not be tolerated because tax-exempt groups “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.”
— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) October 18, 2021
It is, of course, entirely commonplace to see politicians visit churches to garner votes and take part in wholesome photo-ops. Houses of worship are not barred from merely giving a politician a platform, nor are they restricted from simply encouraging voter engagement in a non-partisan way.
Yet for churches to directly engage in the vocal, clear-cut endorsement of a political candidate is what seems to be rather undeniably in violation of the Johnson Amendment, which expressly prohibits non-profit organizations from such political activities.
This is illegal https://t.co/ggewStSVFL
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) October 17, 2021
As the IRS website explains, “In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban.”
Despite dubious claims from former President Donald Trump that he reversed the Johnson Amendment, it is still firmly in place and applicable to the churches hosting Harris and Abrams and their direct political endorsements.
“Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one ‘which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,‘” the IRS explains (emphasis theirs).
As Turley said, it is difficult to characterize Harris’ and Abrams’ activities at these churches as anything but political endorsements. Any claims to the contrary are problematic at best.
“This was a direct political pitch reportedly played in hundreds of churches. Of course, the White House could claim that any violation was committed by the churches if they played the video in prohibited areas,” the constitutional law expert explained on his website.
“That assumes that this was not created for that purpose, but it would effectively throw the churches under the bus,” he continued. “The ultimate penalty is the loss of their tax exempt status, though that is unlikely given the lax enforcement in past cases. Nevertheless, there is a legitimate interest in whether the White House knowingly participated in an effort to campaign in churches in violation of their federal obligations.”
In other words, Harris and Abrams may very well have put the tax-exempt status of these churches at risk with their overzealous campaigning.
This is made all the worse by the fact that the White House is already facing backlash for similar potential federal offenses.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared to pretty much blatantly endorse McAuliffe from her podium last week, a clear violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from engaging in political activities while on duty.
— Matthew Foldi (@MatthewFoldi) October 14, 2021
Now, it’s pretty easy for me to believe that Psaki and Harris simply don’t care about the legality of their words and actions, but I’ll give them both the benefit of the doubt and concede that there’s no way to prove that they were blatantly and knowingly disregarding federal law.
That said, for two such important figures in the Biden administration — one of whom is a former prosecutor — to appear to so carelessly disregard federal law nonetheless is a pretty bad look.
It’s clear that they’re desperate to get McAuliffe elected, and don’t seem to be practicing much discretion in the process of bringing attention to the campaign. Yet their actions unwittingly highlight one of the worst aspects of the current Democratic Party: that they’ll stop at nothing to get their way.
How can they be trusted to ethically run anything if they care more about winning elections than bothering to make sure that they’re participating in them ethically?
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