April 29, 2014

This is why church and state are separated. I'd like to see the IRS investigate this church for stepping over the line of acceptable political participation, since endorsing candidates is forbidden under their weak rules.


Mark Harris could win North Carolina's GOP Senate primary next Tuesday. If so, he may easily become the state's next U.S. senator. And he could do it all with sketchy "love offerings" from parishioners caught on tape passing the hat at the church where he's a pastor.

WRAL-TV in Raleigh captured the January video, embedded below, from the church's very own playlist of sermons—part of the station's longer story about how Harris, a longtime man of God and new Tea Party darling, has actively mixed his religion with his politics, including ways that may skirt campaign-finance laws and threaten several churches' tax-exempt status.

As federally approved nonprofits, churches must refrain from materially supporting political candidates and their campaigns or making clear-cut endorsements of candidates. As a candidate, Harris is required to report all his campaign donations, no matter how small. But the video, and additional info gathered by WRAL, suggests neither Harris nor his Blackwelder Park Baptist Church may be living up to their obligations:

In the video, after about an hour of passionate praising and Harris' sermonizing (at 1:06), current pastor Rev. Don Saylor tells his flock Harris "would make a great senator," adding:

Now, I want you to do this also – we're going to take an offering, all right? We're going to take an offering for Dr. Harris, for his coming and preaching, also for whatever you want to do otherwise for supporting him in this campaign. I hope you will think about it. He has some materials in his car. If you would like to get more materials and pass them out and thereby get better known in this area, and then when the primaries come, you and all of your friends can vote for him. Amen?

These "love offerings" are not reported to the FEC, nor is the church required to report them, and if his tax returns were to be audited, I doubt Harris has reported them either. Mark Harris is an ordained minister, and as such is allowed to take offerings like this to help him with living expenses. But as you can clearly tell from the recording, parishioners were invited to "do otherwise [to support] him in his campaign."

That's off limits. It also confirms my suspicions about Mike Huckabee. Way back in 2007 I questioned his funding sources and could never find any information reporting donations that gave him his initial start in the campaign. Because churches are not required to file reports like non-profit organizations, there is no accountability mechanism for how funds donated are used.

Let's say a wealthy donor gave Harris a few thousand as a "love offering." That wouldn't have to be reported to the FEC, it wouldn't have to be reported by the church, and if it was in cash, Harris could get away with not reporting it, too.

Get on it, IRS. Clearly this is out of bounds. If I ruled the world, this church and all the other ones Harris visited for endorsements should be investigated and lose their tax-exempt status before these people turn this country into a theocracy.

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