In what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind move, the Internal Revenue Service in June sent letters to the nation's political parties reminding them that churches and other non-profit organizations are not allowed to engage in partisan politicking.
"As each presidential election draws near, press reports often raise questions about the role charitable organizations, such as churches, may play in the political debate. This year is no exception," wrote Steven T. Miller, director of the IRS's exempt organizations division, in the June 10 missive.
Continued Miller, "I am providing you with the following information about the federal income tax law requirements to help you ensure that during this election season your committee and the candidates you support do not, inadvertently or otherwise, jeopardize the tax-exempt status of any charitable organization."
The letter noted that while there are proposals in Congress to change the law, they have not yet passed and added, "the Internal Revenue Service is charged by Congress with policing current law and will take whatever actions are necessary to stem abusive behavior."
Although the IRS issues reminders to churches and other tax-exempt organizations every year about partisan politicking, this is believed to be the first time the agency has communicated directly with political parties about the issue.
The action came just one week after President George W. Bush\'s re-election campaign announced that it would seek to enlist 1,600 "friendly congregations" in Pennsylvania (and possibly other states) to serve as gathering places and literature distribution points.
Americans United issued a press release saying that involvement in partisan politics could endanger the congregations' tax-exempt status.