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In the final weeks before Election Day, more than 300 black churches in Virginia have agreed to play a video in which Vice President Kamala Harris urges churchgoers to vote after services Virginia democratic Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe – a move that some experts claim violates the law.

Some lawyers suggest that the video violates Internal Revenue Service rules for tax-exempt churches under Section 501(c)3 of the IRS Code. It is not clear whether any church has played it yet.

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“I believe my friend Terry McAuliffe is the leader of what Virginia needs at this time,” Harris says in the video. “Early voting has already started, and this is the first year you can vote on a Sunday, so please vote after today’s service, and if you can’t vote today, plan to vote.” “

Jonathan Turley: VP Harris’ McAuliffe support video may violate federal law

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Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, cited the statute, which provides tax-exemption to entities that “do not participate in, or interfere with”. [including the publishing or distributing of statements]any political campaign on behalf of [or in opposition to] any candidate for public office.”

He cited the Johnson Amendment, which states that tax-exempt groups are “prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in or interfering in any political campaign. [or in opposition to] any candidate for an electoral public office.”

The statute further states that “contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position” [verbal or written] A political campaign made on behalf of an organization in favor or against a candidate for public office that clearly violates the prohibition against activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the levy of certain excise duties.”

Holtzman Vogel Baran Torchinsky and Josefiac PLLC partner Jean Baran suggested that the law may not apply to the video in question.

“It assumes the church is speaking. Is the pastor making a statement or Harris?” Baran told Granthshala News.

President Biden attends a campaign event with candidate for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe at Luber Run Park on July 23, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.  Reuters / Evelyn Hawkstein

Turley rejected this suggestion.

“NS actual rules … does not limit prohibition to ‘interference,'” he told Granthshala News in an emailed statement. “This includes participating in and specifically publishing or distributing statements. In addition, Church speaks by featuring the video, specifically Knowing Before [as here] That video would call on believers to vote for McAuliffe. It is actively trying to deliver that message to believers.”

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An election attorney who spoke with Granthshala News on condition of anonymity suggested that the video probably violates the Johnson Amendment.

“If Kamala Harris is really endorsing one candidate in particular, and churches are showing it in their churches, it seems like it would be a clear violation of the Johnson Amendment,” the lawyer said. “I think they’ll basically make it their speech by showing the video.”

Vice President Kamala Harris.

But even if the video broke the law, it may not have resulted in penalties for the churches involved.

The IRS “has not gone after churches before for these kinds of violations,” the election lawyer said, taking a more liberal view of political speech. The agency will often consider a pastor’s remarks about the election as a personal speech of the pastor, rather than the words of the church, the lawyer explained.

The lawyer also noted that the Biden administration is unlikely to enact legislation to approve the Harris or McAuliffe campaigns, which President Biden has endorsed.

“How bad is it for the Biden administration to crack down on black churches?” The lawyer said.

Baran also noted that the IRS generally doesn’t enforce the statute in this way.

“I don’t believe the IRS has enforced the law like the one advocated by Turley,” Baran told Granthshala News. “I am unaware of any church, including an evangelical church, in which a candidate has spoken of being subject to repeal of tax-exempt status. Turley does not cite an example.”

The McAuliffe campaign did not respond to Granthshala News’ request for comment. The vice president’s office referred Granthshala News to the McAuliffe campaign.