Christian Coalition surrenders in tax-exempt fight, splits into two groups
By Brooks Jackson/CNN
June 10, 1999
Web posted at: 5:54 p.m. EDT (2154 GMT)
WASHINGTON (June 10) -- The Christian Coalition unveiled Thursday a reorganization plan aimed at regaining its political influence and preserving some semblance of its tax-exempt status.
The organization is splitting into two groups: One that is 'for' profit and one that is not. The move signals that the Coalition is essentially waving a white flag at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
From the start Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition had been fighting with the tax agency, claiming to be entitled to tax-exempt status. But the organization announced Thursday it's giving up and withdrawing its decade-old application.
Last year the IRS challenged the Coalition's claim that it was not mainly engaged in trying to influence elections.
The Coalition hands out millions of 'voter guides' that leave little doubt how it wants the faithful to vote. The Coalition has been staunchly Republican. Robertson sought the party's presidential nomination.
The Coalition's critics say it will now be crippled -- that ministers won't deal with a group the IRS brands as partisan.
"I think this will make pastors all over this country unwilling to come anywhere close to Christian Coalition materials. And that will have a devastating blow on the Christian Coalition's ability to organize," said Barry Lynn of the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
But Christian Coalition spokesman Mike Russell said the group is reorganizing, and its political strength will be undiminished.
"We're looking at roughly 80 million voter guides that are going to be distributed before election day. We're looking at playing a pretty prominent role in the convention again with delegates ... to maintain a presence there," Russell said.
"We're also going to weigh in on the public policy debate as our U.S. Congress and state legislatures across the country take up laws and policies that affect our lives," Russell continued.
The financial effects also are unclear: Coalition officials say they will owe only $183,000 in back taxes over the ten years -- plus interest, a total of perhaps $300,000.
But one independent tax expert said the IRS may seek much more on grounds that political spending is not deductible. That could put the bill in the millions.
The IRS had no comment -- such tax matters are private by law.