Electioneering violates a core American freedom
By Ken K. Gourdin
An op-ed I wrote about electioneering, the effort to sway voters to support or to oppose particular candidates or issues, appeared in the October 21, 2012 edition of The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin. See the following link, http://www.transcriptbulletin.com/view/full_story/20613294/article-Electioneering-violates-one-of-the-most-basic-of-guaranteed-American-freedoms?instance=lead_story_left_column, last accessed today. As the headline indicates, electioneering at or near polling places is a violation of one of our core rights as citizens of the United States of America.
While I am unaware of any instances of electioneering in the state of Utah, it is not unheard of throughout the nation. For perhaps the best (that is to say, the most blatant) example of electioneering I have seen, take a look at this mural, which is displayed prominently at a polling location in Philadelphia, Penn. See the following link, last accessed today. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/11/06/judge-issuing-order-to-reinstate-booted-philadelphia-election-officials/ (Scroll down; a picture of the mural is located below the headline.)
I cannot, for the life of me, understand how even the most partisan election official could think that something like this is even remotely proper. (Nor can I understand how such an official would be retained if he or she did think it’s proper.) Which is more, I don’t think efforts to remedy the situation, provided the accompanying photograph accurately depicts the mural’s current state (what do you want?! We covered part of it up!) are sufficient.
Update, December 14, 2012: Electioneering and Taxes – While my op-ed concerns electioneering at polling places, and while electioneering generally is not prohibited if it does not occur at a polling place while voting is underway, there are other places and circumstances in which electioneering is prohibited. In return for being granted tax-exempt status, while churches and religious organizations can engage in issue advocacy (e.g., arguing against abortion), they cannot endorse candidates.
However, the Internal Revenue Service has not enforced the ban on electioneering by churches even when confronted with express, intentional violations of the ban by clergy. The idea, I suppose, is that an attempt by the IRS to enforce the ban would then result in litigation challenging it, with the hope that the ban would be overturned. For news coverage of attempts to provoke the IRS to enforce the ban as reported by Salt Lake City’s Deseret Morning News, see the story by Eric Schulzke at the following address, last accessed today: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865568567/IRS-still-dragging-its-feet-on-challenges-to-religious-pulpit-electioneering.html?pg=2. For a press release regarding a memorandum from the staff of Senator Charles Grassley (R – IA) about the ban, why it is not enforced, and whether it should be enforced, see the following addresss, last accessed today: http://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/Article.cfm?customel_dataPageID_1502=30359. The foregoing address contains a link to the full memo immediately following the press release where it says, “The following documents are available.” The link is marked, “Staff memo to Grassley.”
Mr. Schulzke’s Deseret Morning News story quotes the memo as follows:
The IRS is required to draw on its limited resources to police a provision that has no express purpose that can be deduced from the legislative history, is harsher than what is necessary to address legitimate policy concerns, is vague (and therefore difficult for charities to comply with and for the IRS to enforce), and rarely results in any punishment being imposed on non-complying organizations or excise tax revenues being collected for the U.S. Treasury.
While, as Mr. Schulzke’s article points out, electioneering from the pulpit is not a one-party problem, truthfully, I wonder if I should hold my breath waiting for anything to be done about it given the facts that (1) so many Democratic-leaning clergy openly engage in it, and (2) a Democrat currently occupies the White House. It will be interesting to see what happens—and what doesn’t.