By Hudson Kingston
Al Capone famously was successfully prosecuted for tax evasion. This fact reminds us of three distinct truisms: 1. Tax evasion is a crime, and Capone went to prison to eventually die there for his misdeeds; 2. Tax evasion, rather than being something one can harmlessly accuse a presidential candidate of, is likely to be a screen for worse crimes – in Capone’s case he was undoubtedly made his money flouting prohibition, not to mention gangland murder; 3. Since Capone’s conviction the government has gotten “tough on crime” and that means Congress enacted more laws like the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which should do something to fill the loopholes in our prosecution of dastardly criminals.
Now let’s talk about tax evasion in the present day for a minute. It seems fairly clear that if your organization operates tax-free due to the Constitutional separation of church and state it would behoove you to not operate as a political bully pulpit. Not that clear, however. Over a thousand pastors plan to violate tax law this week, in an organized effort to boost one presidential candidate’s chances with conservative churchgoers. The IRS holds no awful mystery to these pastors, as they each plan on sending a video of their sermons to the agency in order to make a point. That point is, presumably, “I would like to pay taxes as a political organization, ASAP.” Though to read their argument it seems to be grounded in the First Amendment, just not the part before the first semicolon.
To the extent that the IRS ignores this willful violation of the law, which costs the nation a huge bounty of taxes in a year when governments are considering theunthinkable to raise revenue, it is probably not a going to affect the country other than decreasing revenue. Does anyone believe that the potential voters in these thousand-plus churches were going to vote otherwise? Maybe so, but they probably do not all reside in swing states. The IRS may get a pass here for turning the other cheek.
However, in the state of Minnesota things have gone a bit beyond one act of civil disobedience. Reportedly, the Catholic Church has raised significant funds in order to mail out letters advising Catholics to: 1. Vote for a constitutional amendment that would outlaw gay marriage (which doesn’t yet exist in Minnesota, but has spread to the known liberal stronghold of Iowa); 2. Send money to endorse the amendment. This is troubling. As we all know, money spent is “political speech,” and not only is the church spending to influence individual faithful voters, it is urging them to making more political speech by spending on an advertizing blitz to withhold rights from Minnesotans. A willful violation of constitutionally-derived tax code is being exploited to fund a PAC-like attack on a state’s fundamental document.
Moreover, and this gets us back to the points in the first paragraph. One definition of a racket (in the context of racketeering) is “a business (or syndicate) that . . . is engaged in the sale of a solution to a problem that the institution itself creates or perpetuates, with the specific intent to engender continual patronage.” In the context of an organization that is illegally using First Amendment tax protections to gather the financial wherewithal to affect a fundamental constitutional right in a referendum that is polling near 50-43… well, if the IRS doesn’t do something maybe the DOJ should explore its options under these new-fangled laws from the 1970s. Tax evasion is not the half of it.