Church’s Use Of Web Site And Twitter To Endorse Candidate Violates Federal Tax Law, Watchdog Group Says
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a Los Angeles church that used its Web site and the social networking site Twitter to urge congregants to support a candidate for public office.
Oasis Church posted a statement on its Web site noting that a church official, Alex Jones-Moreno, was seeking reelection to the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood City Council. It asked church members to vote for Jones-Moreno.
“Oasis Church’s appeals might have been innovative, but they still violate the law,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Federal law bars churches and other tax-exempt non-profits from electioneering. The IRS should crack down on these troubling twee
In advance on the election, the church Web site said, “Did you know the Neighborhood City Council Elections are May 13th? Our very own Alex Jones-Moreno, Director of Social Justice, is running for reelection? We are asking everyone who attends, serves, gives or is a part of Oasis Church to please cast your vote for Alex Jones-Moreno during the upcoming elections. Having Alex elected will help us better serve our community. Being a part of the Neighborhood City Council is extremely important as we continue to grow and look to secure a future venue for our church family.”
The message has since been removed from the church’s Web site, but a similar one was later posted that read, “Our very own Alex Jones-Moreno, Director of Social Justice, is running for reelection. We are asking everyone who attends, serves, gives or is a part of Oasis Church to please cast your vote for Alex Jones-Moreno during the upcoming elections.”
On Election Day, the church sent eight messages through Twitter urging members to vote for Jones-Moreno. After the election, the church sent a final “tweet” taking credit for Jones-Moreno’s victory.
Federal law prohibits tax-exempt entities, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. In a letter sent to the IRS yesterday, Americans United asked the tax agency to investigate Oasis Church’s intervention in this election.
“I believe these Web postings and Twitter messages are evidence of a clear pattern of Oasis Church’s deliberate intervention in a partisan election with the aim of electing Jones-Moreno,” wrote Lynn in the letter. “They appear to constitute a violation of federal law.”