Politicized El Paso Church May Face D.A. Investigation

El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza has confirmed that his office is looking into the activities of a church that has organized a campaign to recall the city’s mayor and two city council members.

Pastor Tom Brown of Word of Life Church announced in July that he wants to recall Mayor John Cook and council members Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega. Brown is angry because the three supported a law that recognizes domestic partnerships in the city.

Brown has been using the church and a separate religious entity called Tom Brown Ministries to promote the recall campaign and solicit signatures on recall petitions. Information about the recall appears on the ministry’s website. On July 12, Americans United reported Brown’s ministry to the IRS, noting that federal law prohibits non-profit groups from intervening in elections.

It’s possible that Brown’s partisan activities may also violate state law. The Texas Election Code states that corporations (including non-profits like Tom Brown Ministries) are prohibited from making “a political contribution or political expenditure in connection with a recall election, including the circulation and submission of a petition to call an election.” Violations of this law are punishable as a third-degree felony.

Once AU learned this, the organization followed up with a letter to the state attorney general, enclosing a copy of its complaint to the IRS and requesting a state investigation as well.

Esparza told the El Paso Times that his office had received a separate complaint and was following up.

“We have received a complaint and are looking into the matter,” Esparza said. He declined to elaborate further.

On his website, Brown claims that at least five other churches in El Paso are assisting with the effort by gathering signatures for the recall.

Last month, Cook filed a lawsuit to block the recall from going forward since, he maintains, the signatures were gathered illegally. But County Court Judge Javier Alvarez ruled that even though the signatures might have been collected in violation of state law, “the court doesn’t want to get in the way of an election, and that’s it.”