“Churchgate:” Obama Misused Tax Exempt Church Resources for his Campaign

Barack Obama’s campaign has made a point about not taking money from big donors, even though it has received six figure bundled contributions from “little, ordinary people” like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Broters, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Execlon, and Microsoft,* and even though Obama broke his pledge to accept Federal campaign financing and the accompanying spending limits. The Obama campaign’s fundraising ethics also include illegal and possibly rigged lotteries like “Dinner with Barack;” the “Backstage with Barack” lottery was modified to allow entry without a donation under pressure from Minnesota and possibly other law enforcement agencies.

While Barack Obama is at least morally responsible for the behavior of his campaign staff–and he signed his name to at least one of the lottery solicitations even though, as an attorney, he ought to know at least something about lottery laws–he is directly and personally responsible for his deliberate, premeditated, and willful misuse of the United Church of Christ’s tax exempt resources to support his campaign.

* The corporations do not donate the money themselves, they bundle donations from employees and others. This is legal.

The story begins in 2007, when the United Church of Christ (UCC) invited Barack Obama to its annual Synod in Hartford Connecticut. The church wanted Obama to talk about the role of religious faith in his career. As a tax exempt institution, the church made it explicitly clear to Obama and his staff that no election-related activity could take place at the event. Obama and his staff understood and agreed to this. As stated by ”IRS Investigation: A Test Of Church’s Faith?” by UCC minister Davida Foy Crabtree in the Hartford Courant

Our purpose in inviting Sen. Obama in the spring of 2006 — long before he was a candidate for the presidency — was to ask him to address the connection between his Christian faith and his public service, to speak to us of the challenges for people of faith in the public square today. And he did so with eloquence. As a prominent member of our church, his was a natural invitation, just as the others were. To avoid any hint of endorsement or promotion, our national officers and our denominational attorney established clear understandings with Sen. Obama’s office in Washington. He readily agreed to all of them. We made it clear not only to his campaign staff but also to our own synod delegates and visitors that no advocacy or promotion of his candidacy would be permitted.

So far, so good; the United Church of Christ did everything it should have done to comply with the conditions of its tax exemption. After he said he understood and agreed that no campaign-related activity could take place at the Synod, Barack Obama wrote (thus showing premeditation and malice aforethought, as opposed to blurting out campaign promises in the heat of the moment) “A Politics of Conscience.”

It’s been several months now since I announced I was running for president. In that time, I’ve had the chance to talk with Americans all across this country. And I’ve found that no matter where I am, or who I’m talking to, there’s a common theme that emerges. It’s that folks are hungry for change – they’re hungry for something new. They’re ready to turn the page on the old politics and the old policies – whether it’s the war in Iraq or the health care crisis we’re in, or a school system that’s leaving too many kids behind despite the slogans.…

    Our conscience can’t rest so long as 37 million Americans are poor and forgotten by their leaders in Washington and by the media elites. We need to heed the biblical call to care for “the least of these” and lift the poor out of despair. That’s why I’ve been fighting to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the minimum wage. If you’re working forty hours a week, you shouldn’t be living in poverty. But we also know that government initiatives are not enough. Each of us in our own lives needs to do what we can to help the poor. And until we do, our conscience cannot rest.Our conscience cannot rest so long as nearly 45 million Americans don’t have health insurance and the millions more who do are going bankrupt trying to pay for it. I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premiums by up to $2500 a year. That’s not simply a matter of policy or ideology – it’s a moral commitment. 

he fact that Obama said this after promising explicitly that no campaign-related activity would take place during his appearance at the United Church of Christ shows that he doesn’t have much of a conscience at all. His conduct reminds us of a caller to a talk radio show who, after indicating his understanding of Federal Communication Commission rules that ban profanity, spews a long series of F-bombs once he is on the air. There are enough callers whose lack of maturity makes this a real possibility that there is a delay of several seconds between the time a person speaks and when the words are broadcast, and this allows the radio station to cut the sound if the F word or similar profanity is present. The United Church of Christ obviously felt that similar conduct from a United States Senator would be so inconcievable that there were no provisions for cutting Obama’s microphone, and the UCC was wrong. Obama effectively F-bombed his own church, thus causing its officers considerable stress and worry about what the IRS would do as a result. The IRS apparently reached the same conclusion:

Senator Obama was invited to speak at the 2007 General Synod, in a non-candidate capacity, on how his personal faith intersected with his public life. You further established that the United Church of Christ had verbally communicated to those in attendance that Senator Obama was there as a member of the church and not as a candidate for office, that the audience should not attempt to engage in any political activities and that the church’s legal counsel had advised Senator Obama’s campaign of the ground rules for his speech.

    Also in response to the inquiry, you indicated that the United Church of Christ did not authorize or have any power to authorize campaign volunteers for Senator Obama to set up tables near the entrances of the Hartford Civic Center on Saturday, June 23, 2007, and that the activity was conducted on public property outside the control of the synod and therefore was not attributable to the church.
    You further advised that the United Church of Christ’s website provides a link to the IRS fact sheet on ”Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations,” and that your Nationwide Special Counsel has advised leaders of the United Church of Christ of the publication of Revenue Ruling 2007-41, in June 2007.(OCR transcription of part of the IRS letter to the United Church of Christ, http://www.ucc.org/news/pdf/irsletter.pdf)

Barack Obama promises change, including change in the way he is going to fund his political campaign, but his acceptance of six figure bundled contributions and his broken promise to accept Federal campaign financing and matching limits is just more of the same old stuff. On the other hand, Obama has certainly delivered change in the use of innovative campaign financing methods such as illegal and possibly rigged lotteries, and the diversion of tax exempt church resources for self-serving purposes. We encourage our readers to circulate this “Churchgate” story as widely as possible so the starry-eyed idealists who still idolize this fraud, phony, and empty suit will realize that they are worshiping an individual with few ethics, few principles, and no character.


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