Activist Files IRS Complaint Over Alleged Church Politicking

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - A conservative political activist has filed an official complaint with the Internal Revenue Service over allegations that churches in Louisiana aided Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in her recent re-election effort against Republican candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell.

Rick Sellers sent a letter to Steven Miller, director of Exempt Organizations of the IRS, claiming that over 300 churches in the state participated in partisan political activity.

"I would like to bring to your attention IRS illegal activity in Louisiana during the recent U.S. Senate runoff by more than 300 churches in support of Senator Mary Landrieu's campaign," he wrote.

Sellers attached three newspaper articles - from the Times-Picayune and the Washington Post - that reported on speeches before churches by Landrieu, as well as quotes from Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) detailing how some campaign workers use church vans for transporting voters.

Sellers said the articles were written around the last week of the campaign. "And one mentioned Shiloh Missionary Baptist, but it mentions she went to two other churches that day, and she'd been going to church every Sunday for the last couple months," he said.

According to Sellers, the Dec. 6 edition of the Times-Picayune cites a coalition in New Orleans of 300 churches that were allegedly working with Landrieu's campaign, which he said is illegal.

"Now if there's 300 in New Orleans...I'm assuming there's a couple of hundred more around the state, they were all so organized," Sellers said, guessing that "400 or 500 minimum" churches were involved in the campaign effort.

In the Dec. 5 edition of the Washington Post, George Will's column, titled "Signs of 2004 in South Carolina," which does not mention the Louisiana run-off, quoted Clyburn detailing how campaigns use church vans to assist in transporting voters to the polls.

"Then you have that third factor, Congressman James Clyburn who was quoted in that George Will article that talks about how, and it doesn't say where he was talking about...but he was in Louisiana," Sellers said, "and he talks about how they have a method of where the campaign buys the church van and then they share it. Well that's absolutely illegal too."

The Washington Post column quoted Clyburn explaining what "street money" is and how it pertains to the use of church vans:

"'Let me tell you what street money is,' he says. You go to a black church and say, 'We want to use your van on Election Day' to get voters to the polls. 'You want it Sunday, we want it Tuesday.' So the campaign pays the insurance for a year and hires as a driver a Deacon Jones, whose name is on the van's insurance policy," the column read.

Sellers said he supported legislation authored by Rep. Walter Jones (HR2357), which would have allowed some political discussion in churches, but the U.S. House of Representatives voted the bill down in October 2002.

"And I hate to go this far, it's just that we've worked a year and a half to try to loosen the communication so that pastors at least can tell how candidates vote on the issues. And that was voted down by the U.S. Congress, and the effort was led by the Congressional Black Caucus, which was in Louisiana doing this. And it's just so hypocritical," Sellers argued.

"I've been seeing it for 30 years, and I've just kind of had it. They've [churches] been doing it [participating in politics] in Alabama forever," he said. "Something's gotta be done, we've got to force the issue so either the law is changed or all churches start acting the same, which means no political activity. If Landrieu speaks, Terrell has to speak and there's no other way to get around."

Calls to Landrieu's office for comment were unreturned at press time.

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