IRS Should Investigate Calif. Ministry For Political Endorsement, Says AU

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a California-based ministry whose leader issued a press release endorsing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

In a Feb. 4 press release, the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson of the Brotherhood Organization of A New Destiny (BOND) endorsed Romney. The opening paragraph reads, in part, “Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson…Founder and President of BOND, the Brotherhood Organization of A New Destiny, announced this morning his personal endorsement of Governor Mitt Romney for President of the United States.”

The press release was printed on BOND letterhead and posted on the group’s Web site, where it was clearly identified as a “BOND Press Release.”

IRS regulations permit religious leaders and the heads of non-profit groups to issue personal endorsements of political candidates. However, they may not use non-profit resources to promote candidates. Americans United contends that by issuing the endorsement on BOND letterhead in the form of a press release and posting it on the organization’s Web site, Peterson has violated the law.

“Although Peterson may express his individual views on political candidates, federal tax law prohibits the use of tax-exempt resources, including an announcement on organizational letterhead posted on the organization’s Web site, to disseminate those views,” said AU’s April 2 letter.

“Peterson’s reiteration that his endorsement is ‘personal’ does not shelter his actions from this law,” observed AU. “The IRS has repeatedly warned non-profits not to use organizational resources to intervene in elections.”

BOND was founded in 1990 and says its goals include “helping men and their families overcome personal challenges” and “bringing the races together with truth.” According to GuideStar.com, an internet database of non-profit groups, BOND is considered a church.

A Q&A on the BOND Web site states that Sunday services are held at the group’s Los Angeles headquarters. The organization describes itself as “nondenominational Christian.” The BOND advisory board includes Sean Hannity, a far-right Fox News Channel personality.