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Pennsylvania religious groups helping Santorum are breaking the tax laws, says CREW

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The New York Times reported yesterday on four Pennsylvania groups that have combined into a political operation called the Pennsylvania Pastors Network. No surprise, based on their first meeting, their goal is to re-elect Santorum:

The first training session, on March 6 in Valley Forge, included a videotaped message from a single candidate, Senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who faces a difficult re-election fight.

"I encourage you to let your voices be heard from the pulpit" on vital issues, Mr. Santorum said, urging the pastors to champion a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, according to a recording made by a person at the session. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a liberal group critical of the effort, provided the recording to The New York Times.

After the tape, organizers offered participating pastors copies of the senator's book "It Takes a Family."
The problem is that, as The Times piece notes, this effort could well run afoul of federal tax laws governing charities and politics which is a new-found priority for Bush's IRS Commissioner:
The training session was two weeks after the internal revenue commissioner, Mark W. Everson, spoke at the City Club of Cleveland saying, "We can't afford to have our charitable and religious institutions undermined by politics."
Now whether the IRS under Bush would ever go after a right wing group is a real question. Enter CREW.

Citizens for Responsibility in Ethics in Washington (CREW) is holding Everson to his word by filing an IRS complaint against two of the groups:
CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloan said “it appears that rather than engaging in legal, non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts, the real mission of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network is to assist Senator Santorum in his re-election campaign. This is exactly the sort of political activity prohibited by IRS law.” Sloan continued, “the IRS has already taken action against a liberal church in Pasadena, California for much less egregious activities. If the IRS is serious about enforcing the law equally, it will take action against those involved in creating the Pennsylvania Pastors Network as well.”
These conservative groups expect to operate unfettered even if it violates the law because they have friends in government. CREW doesn't care who their friends are.

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