July 19, 2005
Jerry Falwell discovers the separation of (tax-exempt) church from (taxable) state:
The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint against the Rev. Jerry Falwell that said he broke federal election law by urging followers last summer to re-elect President Bush.
Falwell’s lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, said in a news release Monday that the FEC notified him that it had ruled in the evangelist’s favor by a vote of 6-0.
“Dr. Falwell does not lose his right to personal expression each election cycle,” Staver said. “As a member of the media, the media outlets through which he communicates enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.”
A similar complaint against Falwell lodged last summer with the Internal Revenue Service remains pending, said Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed the claim. An adverse IRS ruling could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of some of Falwell’s holdings.
Falwell, founder of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and the defunct Moral Majority, told religious conservatives in his July 1, 2004, “Falwell Confidential” Internet newsletter that “voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush. The alternative, in my mind, is simply unthinkable.”
The Campaign Legal Center complained to the FEC that Falwell and two allied, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations broke election laws by explicitly advocating the election of a federal candidate.
However, Staver noted that Falwell founded Liberty Broadcasting Network, television station WTLU, the Liberty Channel cable network and two radio stations. He argued that Falwell did not relinquish editorial rights just because he is also a preacher.
This, of course, is a total crock—and if the FEC really believes it, I have a choice of bridges to sell them.
To be clear: just because Falwell founded a bunch of media properties as a conduit for his conservative Christian hate—never forget that this is the wingnut who blamed gays, lesbians and the ACLU, among others, for 9/11—it doesn’t make him a “member of the media.” No matter how many times he sounds off on those media outlets—or anywhere else, for that matter.
Moreover, Falwell’s televangelism properties are mostly financed by funds raised for and by his tax-exempt, nonprofit religious organizations. So Falwell wasn’t exercising his “right to personal expression” as a member of the media; he was leveraging his tax-exempt-funded assets for very explicit political advocacy. And that, last time I checked, contravenes both election law and IRS nonprofit guidelines.
Maybe I’m missing something here. Please let me know if I am.
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