The El Cajon church organizes a forum on the pre-primary elections, not fearing the peril of the taxman
“Bring your ballots for a good review and discussion on how we can apply our heavenly citizenship to our earthly citizenship!” says the non-denominational church.
Huey, who made failed runs for Congress in 2011 and state Assembly in 2012 and later moved to Tennessee, is the author of “The Christian Voter: 7 Non-Negotiables For Voting For, Not Against, Your Values” and “The Deep State: 15 Surprising Dangers You Should Know”.
He could also be an expert in tax law for non-profit organizations.
According to Russ Park, the volunteer ministry leader who helped organize the pre-primary forum May 15, Huey never violates the Johnson Amendment – part of the IRS code that prohibits 501(c)(3) tax-exempt groups like churches from certain political activities.
“Mind you, you’ll probably hear a certain contempt in his voice for a particular person because of his position,” Park said Tuesday in a phone interview. “But [Huey] never specifically comes out and says, She’s a bad person, don’t vote for her.
Park, a 64-year-old IT cybersecurity consultant living in Lakeside, is aware of the suspicions about forums like his, organized by the church’s Salt & Light Council.
“We have every right to bring in a competent speaker who has studied the issues and the candidates, who can judge them on their merit,” Park said.
Huey simply evaluates applicants based on a “clearly expressed list of values,” Park says. “[Huey] does not say: Vote for this guy because he says he is pro-life. Just so you know what (he stands for).
San Diego IRS Spokesperson Raphael Tulino would not comment on the Foothills Church event.
In fact, he says, federal law prevents him from speaking about a specific case unless a criminal charge has been unsealed — such as one involving Chabad of Poway Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein.
When asked how often (and why) churches lose their tax-exempt status — and their ability to offer tax deductions to donors — Tulino, an IRS spokesperson for 20 years, led a reporter to IRS reports and its tax guide for churches and religious organizations.
According to the 2020 IRS Data Book, 1,417 churches and charities were audited in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020. That’s out of 1.4 million of those existing nonprofits. The Data Book does not say how many churches lost their untaxed status.
But generic examples of political activity in the IRS tax guide suggest that Foothills Church might cross the line.
The general rule is that all Section 501(c)(3) groups “must not participate in or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”
An election forum like Foothills – which attracted 250 people in pre-pandemic years – is not addressed in the IRS examples. But one says:
“Church S… distributes a voter’s guide during an election campaign. The voter’s guide is drawn up from the candidates’ answers to a questionnaire sent to candidates for major public offices. Although the questionnaire covers a wide range of topics, the wording of the questions highlights a bias on some points. Using a questionnaire structured in this way, Church S is [illegally] participate or intervene in a political campaign”.
In November 2017, the IRS iissued a reminder that federal law prohibits churches and charities from “getting directly or indirectly involved in the campaigns of political candidates.”
He added: “Violation of the law may result in the imposition of an excise tax or, in extreme cases, the loss of tax-exempt status.”
That same year, NPR wondered: Have any churches gotten in trouble for violating the Johnson Amendment?
His conclusion: “Not really. … Since 2008, the Alliance Defending Freedom organized “Freedom Sunday from the Pulpit”, encourage pastors to give explicitly political sermons in defiance of the law. The IRS, however, has rarely decided to remove a church’s tax exemption.
Only one of more than 2,000 Christian clergy members deliberately challenging the law since 2008 has been audited, and none have been punished, NPR noted, citing the Washington Post.
Foothills Minister Park said an audit implicated a black clergyman who supported Barack Obama while attending church. The church received a warning letter, he said.
Although former President Trump bragged about “doing away” with the Johnson Amendment, he didn’t, Park said. Trump just issued an executive order in May 2017 limiting its application.
“It has been widely reported that the Johnson Amendment is currently unenforced,” said the National Law Review. “With this in mind, the executive order is unlikely to have any practical effect.”
One theory as to why the Biden administration might not punish the churches for their open politics is that a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority could strike down the Johnson Amendment (named after Lyndon Johnson, who, as U.S. Senator, introduced a bill in July 1954).
President Huey has appeared at Foothills Church in 2016, 2018 and 2020. His May 15 talk will be recorded by the church and posted on YouTube, says Park, the unpaid pastor. (Huey lists 50 churches where he spoke, including the Rock Church of San Diego and the First Christian Church of Chula Vista.)
As for politics, Park says the church event will “go to the line and do it strong. And I have the full support of my pastors to do it.
He said earlier: “Anyone with half a brain will see – yeah, duh, we all align with that value, so you say he’s the good guy.”
IRS spokesman Tulino noted a complaint form for those concerned about alleged IRS violations.
But has Park, the unpaid pastor, ever heard criticism?
“If anyone ever complained, it wasn’t answered to me,” he said.