AU Urges IRS To Investigate El Paso Ministry For Politicking

Americans United has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an El Paso, Texas, ministry that is organizing a recall campaign against the city’s mayor and two council members.

In a July 12 letter to the IRS, Americans United asserts that Tom Brown Ministries appears to have run afoul of federal tax law, which prohibits houses of worship, ministries and other 501(c)(3) non-profit groups from endorsing or opposing candidates.

In June, Pastor Tom Brown of Tom Brown Ministries issued an email to the community. The message, distributed by the ministry and featured on its website, endorses the recall of Mayor John Cook and El Paso City Council Members Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd. Brown has also written about the recall on the ministry’s website and announced it during services at his Word of Life Church.

“This is a ministry, not a political action committee,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “If Pastor Brown wants to en­gage in partisan politics, he should do it on his own time and his own dime. He should not misuse the resources of his tax-exempt religious organization.”

Brown and his supporters are angry that the council voted to extend health-care benefits to domestic partners.

Writes Brown, “It is for that reason that I, along with El Pasoans for Trad­i­tional Family Values (EPFTFV), have decided to join in the recall of Mayor John Cook, and help in any way we can to recall Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd.”

The ministry website features an “Open Letter to City Council” that at­tacks Cook, Ortega and Byrd for their votes. It goes on to say, “If you are up­set at this action and would like to sign and/or circulate a recall petition against Mayor John Cook and Rep­resen­tatives Susie Byrd and Steve Or­tega, then fill out the form below. Share this page with your friends and get them to fill out the form. Thanks.”

Brown insists his ministry politicking is permissible because he registered the ministry’s website in his own name. In its letter to the IRS, Am­ericans United disputes this claim.

“The fact that the ministry website is registered in Brown’s name is irrelevant,” AU told the IRS. “It remains the ministry’s official website, and as such it may not be used to engineer a recall of election officials – and that is exactly what Brown has done.”

Adds the AU letter, “In fact, the IRS has made it clear that websites operated by 501(c)(3) organizations may not be used to endorse or oppose candidates.”