From the very beginning, after receiving $64,000 in start-up money from the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition has been a hardball political operation posing as a non-partisan, "social welfare" group. As an arm of the Republican Party, the Coalition has helped legions of GOP candidates, all the while enjoying the benefits of tax exemption.
Well, not anymore. After an unprecedented, decade-long review, the Internal Revenue Service has denied the Christian Coalition's tax-exempt status, and it couldn't have happened to a more deserving group.
Every election year, Robertson and other Coalition leaders would lure hundreds of houses of worship into their political operation, asking churches to put their own tax exemptions in jeopardy by distributing slanted voter guides.
With tax-exempt status, Christian Coalition leaders were empowered to tell pastors that their organization was worthy of the credibility and trustworthiness associated with that distinction. The Coalition shamefully misrepresented itself to churches in the interest of furthering its political goals.
In addition to the millions of partisan voter guides, the most damaging evidence that the IRS simply couldn't ignore came directly from the Christian Coalition's founder.
In a now-infamous closed-door speech in September 1997 to his state lieutenants, Robertson boasted of electing the GOP congressional majority in 1994 and promised to control the GOP nominating process in the race for the White House in 2000. An audiotape of the address, which Americans United obtained and promptly gave to the IRS, also found Robertson urging the Coalition activists to emulate Tammany Hall and other powerful political machines.
Sorry, Pat, but backroom political machines don't get tax exemptions.
What happens now?
While the IRS action was great news, opponents of the Christian Coalition must remember that Robertson's organization isn't dead, it's just changing form. Now there will be two groups to flout and ignore tax and election laws instead of one.
The "Christian Coalition of America" has already promised to do "everything" the old Coalition did. That's right, in a brazen example of chutzpah, the new group will still try to persuade churches to distribute its biased voter guides. Meanwhile, "Christian Coalition International" has said it will endorse and make contributions to its favorite candidates.
In other words, there's still plenty of work to do for those of us who believe in church-state separation and freedom of conscience.
Nevertheless, Americans United is proud of its role in helping inform activists, voters and church leaders nationwide that Robertson's Coalition is, or should we say was, a crass political operation undeserving of tax breaks. Just as importantly, AU is pleased to have played a large role in providing voluminous evidence to the IRS that proved this point beyond any reasonable doubt.
In the matter of the Christian Coalition versus the IRS, justice has finally been served.