One of the Republican strategies for this election is to energize the chuch base, one of their weak points in 2000 when a significant portion of the evangelical voters failed to come to the polls, mistrustful of George Bush’s centrism. (One of the reasons Bush chose Cheney as his running mate was to shore up his conservative credentials.) The Washington Post reports that the Bush campaign has sent support material for their volunteers to get church congregations involved, sending up wailing and lamentations from Democrats that claim, among other things, that the outreach is “sinful”:
The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives.
Campaign officials said the instructions are part of an accelerating effort to mobilize President Bush’s base of religious supporters. They said the suggested activities are intended to help churchgoers rally support for Bush without violating tax rules that prohibit churches from engaging in partisan activity. …
The instruction sheet circulated by the Bush-Cheney campaign to religious volunteers lists 22 “duties” to be performed by specific dates. By July 31, for example, volunteers are to “send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney ’04 Headquarters or give [it] to a BC04 Field Rep” and “Talk to your Pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and Voter Registration Drive.”
By Aug. 15, they are to “talk to your Church’s seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush/Cheney ’04” and “recruit 5 more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush Cheney campaign.”
By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with church members, and in October they are to “finish calling all Pro-Bush members of your church,” “finish distributing Voter Guides in your church” and place notices on church bulletin boards or in Sunday programs “about all Christian citizens needing to vote.”
Because of the tax-exempt status of churches, they cannot participate in partisan politics. Churches as organizations can hold voter registration drives and sponsor debates, but are prohibited from endorsing a particular candidate or party. However, members of congregations can certainly politic with other members, call them on the phone, and encourage their pastors to do all they can within the tax laws to promote political activism amongst the parishioners. In the examples the Post cites, that’s as far as the Bush campaign requests them to go.
That hasn’t stopped the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments from the Democrats, however. Various Democratic activists warn the Post’s readers of the Apocalypse of tax investigations if people take the Bush campaign’s advice. The Kerry campaign warns that Republicans are “luring” churches into risking their tax-exempt status, while liberal activist group, America Coming Together, hints at even darker consequences:
“I think it is sinful of them to encourage pastors and churches to engage in partisan political activity and run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status,” said Steve Rosenthal, chief executive officer of America Coming Together, a group working to defeat Bush.
If you recall, Rosenthal’s group is the same one who sent convicted sex offenders to people’s homes in order to register the residents as Democrats, a fact which the Post fails to mention in its overwrought coverage of this non-story. This is also the same party that has insisted for eight years that Vice President Al Gore did nothing illegal when he engaged in fund-raising at the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple in Los Angeles.
Of course, now the Democrats have become terribly concerned about the souls of the various churches that may come into contact with the Republican heathen, and don’t hesitate to use terminology that would have them screaming “impending theocracy!” at the top of their lungs had Republicans used it instead. It’s a thinly-veiled attempt to threaten churches with IRS complaints if their members organize for political activity on behalf of Republicans, a blatant act of intimidation that belies the fear Democrats have that the Republicans will wind up with the greater grass-roots effort this election cycle.