The Legacy Church in Albuquerque, N.M., recently handed out sample ballots to members with some candidates' names highlighted in yellow ink.
The ballot marking may violate the church's tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
“Organizations like churches are allowed to take positions on issues. What they are not allowed to do is to promote a candidate,” attorney Bill Davis told Action 7 News (video below).
Davis said churches can do voter registration drives and state positions on issues, but when it comes to endorsing candidates, he added, "I would advise them not to do it, as a church.”
“I think where the question arises is whether that type of political activity would have an impact on the 501(c)(3) nonprofit status of the church,” Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver told the Albuquerque Journal.
The IRS states on its website:
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.
Legacy Pastor Steve Smothermon refused to speak to Action 7 News, but attacked the news station on Sunday in church.
“Why is it the church is the only one in America that cannot say anything?” stated Pastor Smothermon. “They try to intimidate, and I'm not going to let Channel 7 or any of these yahoos suppress our ability as Americans to have a say in this nation."
However, Action 7 News reported the story after members of Pastor Smothermon's church called the news station about the marked ballots, which appear to be endorsements.
“I sought out expert advice from leading experts and the best attorneys,” claimed Pastor Smothermon. “The truth is we’ve done nothing wrong."
The Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian law firm, told Action 7 News, “There are no constitutional or federal tax law issues presented by these sample ballots.”