Main | Friday, May 22, 2009

Maine's Catholic Diocese May Be Violating Tax Laws In Gay Marriage Attack

Maine activists have filed a complaint with the IRS charging that the Maine Catholic diocese is violating its tax exempt status by funding a ballot referendum drive to repeal same-sex marriage.
The Empowering Spirits Foundation said its challenge was filed Wednesday at an Internal Revenue Service office in Dallas. The San Diego-based group said the diocese is engaging in political activity by collecting signatures for the referendum, violating IRS rules applying to nonprofits. The ballot question would overturn Maine's gay marriage law. Gay marriage foes need the signatures of at least 55,087 registered voters to get the question on the ballot. The petitioners have until three months after the Legislature adjourns, which is expected to happen in mid-June, to collect the signatures. IRS policy allows the diocese to participate in the campaign and help collect signatures, said Marc Mutty, public affairs director for the diocese. He rejected the IRS challenge as a "bogus attempt to sidetrack the campaign." Leonard Cole, a Portland attorney who specializes in tax and nonprofit issues, suggested that the church's involvement could put it at odds with IRS rules that restrict lobbying by tax-exempt nonprofits. "It's hard for me to imagine how you seek someone's signature on a petition without it arguably at least being an attempt to influence their vote once the measure was on the ballot," Cole said.
It's been my understanding that nonprofits may campaign on social issues, but not for specific candidates, as we saw with Prop 8. Does the challenge by Maine activists hold water?

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