Pastors Backing Ganim in Bridgeport Endangering Tax-Exempt Status?

It’s becoming all too familiar: pastors gathering together to back a specific candidate for a specific political office. Such is the case when eight leaders of churches in Bridgeport gathered last week to back Joe Ganim’s comeback attempt to win the mayor’s office. The fact is the leaders of these tax-exempt churches are prohibited by law from doing so if they want their churches to keep that status.

Breaking the law is nothing new for Ganim having spent seven years in the slammer for corruption when he was mayor. But now he may be bringing the pastors along with him.

Internal Revenue Service rules governing the political activity by leaders of tax-exempt religious organizations are clearly spelled out in IRS publication 1828: “…[O]rganizations, including churches and religious organizations, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office…[P]ublic statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax.”

The pastors may very well claim they were speaking for themselves or claim they were not endorsing Ganim from the pulpit. However, the IRS is pretty clear on that as well. “To avoid potential attribution of their comments outside of church functions and publications, religious leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity are encouraged to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization.” There is no evidence from news reports that that the “pastors for Ganim” made any attempt to indicate they were speaking for themselves.

We’ll leave alone for the moment the morality of endorsing a return of a candidate to the very office he used to defraud, steal and otherwise fleece the people of Bridgeport (including the fine members of the pastors’ churches). But it could be a serious violation of the IRS tax code by which these pastors claim to abide.

There is some irony in the pastors’ endorsement. It can certainly be expected that they would support a second chance for Ganim as does The Shad. But it shouldn’t be expected that they would back a return to the mayor’s office for Gangster Ganim. The pastors speak each week to the flock Ganim had no problem ripping off for his own personal gain. In fact, Ganim’s weak apology for his corruption came only after he decided to try to return to the scene of the crime. Pathetic.