Magazine article Church & State

Maryland Politicians Return Donations from Religious Groups

Magazine article Church & State

Maryland Politicians Return Donations from Religious Groups

Article excerpt

Several political leaders in Maryland who accepted illegal donations from churches returned the money after an investigation by the Baltimore Sun.

The Sun reported Feb. 26 that more than 100 Maryland churches "have made campaign contributions to political candidates in recent years, an act that is prohibited by federal tax law and blurs the line between politics and the pulpit."

Reporter John Fritze noted, "Some have given repeatedly, such as the Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore, which made a dozen campaign donations between 2000 and 2004 that add up to more than $3,000, according to a review by The Sun of candidate finance reports.

"Statewide, at least 115 churches have given to about 40 candidates since 2000, according to the review, and while the donations are generally small and sporadic, they flout Internal Revenue Service regulations that prohibit churches from advocating for specific political candidates."

The Internal Revenue Code prohibits houses of worship and other non-profit groups from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. Non-profit contributions to candidates" coffers are flatly forbidden.

Elected officials at first tried to defend the practice. Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who has received $16,000 from churches since 2000, including $500 from the church he pastors, said he considered the practice no big deal.

"We're talking about faith-based this and faith-based that--why not?" said Burns. "We're moving in that direction. It doesn't mean that because a church buys a ticket that it supports a political position. They're just going to be at an event."

Religious leaders contacted by the newspaper offered a variety of explanations for their donations. Some said they did not know about the law or that they did not consider their donations a political contribution. …

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