Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Catholic Church, actually Cardinal Mahony, and immigration again

This is interesting, though I don’t think it violates the church’s tax-exempt status. Stanley Kurtz wonders about the double standard, but the encouragement of immigration activism comes from the top and the dissociation with pro-life activism seems to come, in this case, from the parish priest.

Discussions - 1 Comment

I am researching this sort of activity for a tax professor at OSU.

This is a clear instance of lobbying. Asking members to fill out cards to send to a legislator is classic lobbying, there can be no dispute about that. Whether it violates 501(c)(3) status is a difficult question. I know very little about the case law in this area, but the legal standard is the charitable organization cannot have a "substantial part" of its activities relate to lobbying.

The "substantial part" is difficult to apply. Some Circuits, such as the 6th, state that 5% or less of total revenue spent on lobbying is NOT substantial, while other Circuits, such as the 10th (I think), use a more subjective what is the result of the action sort of test. 100,000s of letters would have a good shot at being substantial under this test. Section 501(h) provides safe harbor for some 501(c)(3)s but it does not apply to churches.

Section 4955 provides for an excise tax when 501(c)(3)s violate the prohibition of substantial lobbying. Also, it is possible that because of the wilfull nature of the act the Service could threaten to revoke tax exempt status, but this is very unlikely. What is more likely (assuming substantiality has been met), is that the Service will use a provision in 4955 to levy a tax against the officer that ordered the action (Mahony). I think this tax is limited to $10,000, or $50,000, I forget.

One thing I am uncertain of, is whether the diocese is the organization used to determine substantality, or the entire Catholic Church, or maybe just the Parish. I guess it would depend on how they are incorporated under state law. My discussion assumes the tax laws have not changed since 1987; I am fairly certain they have not changed much in this area.

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