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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Partisan politicking raises red flag

As the political season heats up, both the Republican and Democratic parties are targeting the religious vote.

In mid-July President Bush's campaign presented evangelical church leaders a list of "22 duties, most of which are standard, well-accepted activities: voter registration, praying for the country, its leaders and troops." The list asked church leaders to organize conservative congregations in their area to support the president's re-election bid.

But the first duty cited was: "Send your church directory to your Bush-Cheney '04 Headquarters." This quickly drew objections from conservative and liberal commentators. And the Internal Revenue Service cautioned that churches risk losing their tax-exempt status if directories are repeatedly given to only one campaign free of charge.

Tax regulations forbid giving away mailing lists to partisan political campaigns unless they pay for them, said Joseph Urban of the IRS exempt organization division. Congregations that give away lists worth more than $1,000 could be required to register with the Federal Election Commission.

Jack Reilly, another IRS official, said a congregation may sell its directory at fair-market value but must make sure "all candidates had an equal opportunity to get the list ... inform[ing] the candidates of the availability of the list."

The Democratic National Committee also is targeting the religious vote.

On July 23 it appointed Brenda Bartella Peterson as its first senior adviser for religious outreach. A Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor, Peterson's duties weren't clearly defined at presstime. But committee staff said the Kerry campaign plans to mount a serious challenge for the vote of people of faith.


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