The Internal Revenue Service has launched an investigation of the United Church of Christ (UCC) after Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama gave a speech at the denomination’s 2007 national convention.
Church officials say Obama, an Illinois senator, had agreed to speak at the event before he announced his candidacy in January of 2007. They say Obama, as the highest ranking UCC member in public office, was asked to speak about the role of faith in public life. Obama did mention his bid for president in his address, however.
According to the IRS’s Feb. 20 letter to the UCC, the tax agency has reason to believe the denomination “engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status.” The letter cites “articles posted on several Web sites including the church’s [reporting] that United States Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama” addressed the convention and information tables staffed by Obama campaign volunteers as examples of the “political activity” being investigated.
The IRS has indicated that public officials, even those running for elected office, can appear at religious gatherings to address issues important to those communities. UCC officials say they stayed within those guidelines and that tables run by Obama staffers were outside the convention center and were not an official part of their meeting.