July 12, 2011 A ministry based in El Paso, Texas, should be investigated for organizing a recall campaign against the city’s mayor and two council members, Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Internal Revenue Service today.
In a letter to the IRS, Americans United asserts that Tom Brown Ministries appears to have run afoul of federal tax law, which prohibits houses of worship, ministries and other 501(c)(3) non-profit groups from endorsing or opposing candidates.
In June, Pastor Tom Brown of Tom Brown Ministries issued an email titled “A Message from Pastor Tom Brown.” The message, distributed by the ministry, endorses the recall of Mayor John Cook and El Paso City Council Members Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd. Brown has also written about the recall on the ministry’s website and announced it during services at his Word of Life Church.
“This is a ministry, not a political action committee,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “If Pastor Brown wants to engage in partisan politics, he should do it on his own time and his own dime. He should not misuse the resources of his tax-exempt religious organization.”
Brown and his supporters are angry that the council voted to extend health-care benefits to domestic partners. Writes Brown, “It is for that reason that I, along with El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values (EPFTFV), have decided to join in the recall of Mayor John Cook, and help in any way we can to recall Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd."
The ministry website features an “Open Letter to City Council” that attacks Cook, Ortega and Byrd for their votes. It goes on to say, “If you are upset at this action and would like to sign and/or circulate a recall petition against Mayor John Cook and Representatives Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega, then fill out the form below. Share this page with your friends and get them to fill out the form. Thanks.”
In its letter to the IRS, Americans United asserts that Brown’s actions appear to be a clear violation of the law. AU disputes Brown’s claim that his partisan politicking is permissible because the ministry website is registered in his own name.
“The fact that the ministry website is registered in Brown’s name is irrelevant,” AU told the IRS. “It remains the ministry’s official website, and as such it may not be used to engineer a recall of election officials – and that is exactly what Brown has done.”
Adds the AU letter, “In fact, the IRS has made it clear that websites operated by 501(c)(3) organizations may not be used to endorse or oppose candidates.”