Thursday, September 6, 2012

Guidelines for Political Activities of Churches and Pastors

From James Bopp, by James Bopp, Jr. General Counsel
James Madison Center for Free Speech
in association with the Alliance Defense Fund

Guidelines for Political Activities of Churches and Pastors

The following is a list of activities that may be considered political activities in the broad sense and that a church or pastor, in his individual capacity and using his own funds, may wish to do.

First, churches and pastors may discuss the positions of candidates on issues B including criticizing or praising them for their positions. This is called issue advocacy.

Second, pastors, as individuals, may endorse candidates, and publish their endorsements at their own expense. The endorsement of a candidate includes any statement which uses explicit words to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, such as "elect," "support," "defeat," or "oppose." This is called express advocacy. A church may not engage in express advocacy, but a pastor, in his individual capacity, may.

Third, pastors as individuals may contribute to political candidates, churches may not. In‑kind expenditures are non‑cash benefits provided to a political candidate. Pastors may make in‑kind expenditures in favor of or against political candidates, but churches may not.

Fourth, pastors may make independent expenditures for such advertising as long as they don=t utilize church property. Churches may not make such expenditures. Independent expenditures are expenditures for advertising in favor of or against political candidates, that are not coordinated with the candidate, and are not approved by the candidate.

Fifth, pastors may contribute to political action committees, or PACs, but churches may not.

Sixth, pastors may pay the expenses for a person to attend a caucus of a state/national convention, churches may not.

Seventh, a political candidate may appear at a church service. The appearance of a candidate before a church service, however, is limited as follows: (a) any other candidate for the office or any other political party who is a candidate for the office who requests to appear must be given the same opportunity, and (b) no solicitation for funds for the candidate or endorsement of the candidate may be made by any representative of the church.

In addition, a church may allow political candidates to have a meeting or use the facilities of the church on the same basis that civic groups and other organizations are allowed to. If civic groups and other organizations are required to pay some rent for using the church property, the political candidate should be charged the same amount.

Eighth, a church may publish or distribute the results of surveys of candidates on public issues. Such surveys, however, must be non‑partisan. As a result, 501 (c) (3) church groups should observe the following conditions in publishing or distributing the survey:

1. publish the response of all the candidates for the particular office by use of "yes" and "no". Avoid use of "+" and "‑" or "pro‑life" and "anti‑life". The survey should not specify what is the desired response;

2. do not include any words indicating either endorsement of or support for any of the candidates or indicate that the reader should "vote pro‑life." Advocacy of one issue voting should be reserved for other issues of the church bulletin when the survey is not published; and

3. do not publish the response to the survey under the control, direct or indirect, of any candidate.

It is preferable that candidate surveys involve a variety of issues, but this is not required.

Ninth, churches may also publish the voting records of incumbent public officeholders. In the case of publication of voting records, the church has more leeway than in publishing candidate surveys as follows:

1. the church, in publishing the incumbent=s votes on particular issues, may indicate the church=s view and the fact that the incumbent supported or opposed the church=s view. Thus, "+" or "‑" or "pro‑life" and "anti‑life" may be used, and

2. in other respects, the publications should be non‑partisan. As a result, the voting records of all incumbents in the area should be presented, candidates for reelection should not be identified, no comment should be made on an individual=s overall qualifications for public office, and no statements expressly advocating the election or defeat of any incumbent as a candidate for public office should be offered.

Tenth, pastors may distribute candidate political statements at their own expense, but may not distribute them at church. Churches may not distribute candidate political statements, but they may permit distribution by others of candidate political statements in their church parking lot.

Eleventh, lists of members of the church congregation may be rented to candidates for their use in seeking support or raising funds. The candidate must pay the fair market value for the list, if it is rented from the church. The church must offer the list to all candidates on the same terms

Twelfth, a church may participate in non‑partisan voter education. Here, voter education involves discussion of the electoral process, such as how to run for public office or delegate, how to register, where to vote, helping or assisting people to register and get out the vote drives. All such activity is permissible as long as it is not directed at one party or candidate over another.

Thirteenth, a church may publish an ad for a political candidate in its bulletin or newsletter, as long as the ad is purchased at the regular rate for such ads published in that publication. If discounts are given regular advertisers under certain circumstances, the same discounts may be extended to the political advertiser. In addition, the church may be selective in printing adsBfor instance, only ads from pro‑life candidates may be accepted. A political ad may not be sold to a candidate at less than the regular rate since this would constitute a political contribution to the candidate.

Fourteenth, a church may publish without limitation news stories on political candidates, political campaigns and endorsements of political candidates by political organizations. The publication of voting records and candidate surveys in bulletins are subject to the limitations delineated in item nine above.

Fifteenth, a church may not publish an editorial supporting or endorsing a candidate for political office. This would be considered a church endorsement, which it may not do.

See also, comprehensive information at Political Responsibility Center of Priests for Life