Christ Community Church deserves an IRS audit | Opinion
So gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano denies campaigning at Christ Community Church last weekend?
Mastriano’s huge campaign billboard parked just outside the church; showing a film documenting Mastriano’s history and political background and calling for a “revolution”.
The church advertised it on the Facebook page, charging a $20-$100 (VIP) entrance fee and telling its congregation it was moving to a “secret location” after hundreds of negative FB posts; control and prevent almost all media from attending the event; presenting no information on Mastriano’s opponent, Josh Shapiro.
Mastriano speaking and the crowd standing and cheering “Doug, Doug, Doug!” having Steve Turley an avowed “populist nationalist” giving a long rant against Democrats and Governor Wolf; and Mastriano eventually went public with the church event on his Twitter feed.
Was it a political event intended to collect votes or a legitimate and civic presentation of a candidate? The answer is painfully obvious; it was an embarrassingly transparent campaign stunt. And, as we’ll find out from the IRS, a likely violation of federal regulations prohibiting tax-exempt churches from promoting a political candidate.
So what is the response from Mastriano and the church? That they didn’t utter the prohibitive “magic words” – that they didn’t explicitly endorse Mastriano for governor. But who knows? Christ Community Church has largely banned the media from attending, and a congregant complained on Facebook that the pastor expressly endorsed Mastriano during the Sunday service.
In fact, the question for the IRS to determine is whether the event as a whole, including all of the above facts, indicates that Mastriano and the church used the event to support his candidacy for the post of PA governor. Everyone present, including the church congregation, knows this.
And consider this; while Mastriano plays fast and free, walking the thin line of church-sponsored political campaigning, he calls on Pennsylvanians to elect him as governor, the Palestinian Authority’s chief lawmaker. This from a man who witnessed the Jan. 6 attack, likely violated the Capitol (he denies it), which refuses to comply with Congressional subpoena, while promoting the lie that the elections of 2020 were rigged.
The film announced and sponsored by the Church is “The Return of the American Patriot” which calls for a revolution against Governor Wolf’s “tyranny” in his handling of covid mitigation. The film boasts military footage and battle scenes from the American Revolution, eerily reminiscent of the January 6 attack.
Thus, Mastriano used a religious framework, endorsed and promoted by the pastor, to promote more vitriol and hatred against legitimately elected government officials. And the screening was punctuated by a long speech from its producer Steve Turley, conspirator and self-proclaimed nationalist.
Extra credit? Even commercial theaters in Lancaster County recently backed out of showing the film due to its inflammatory content.
Unsurprisingly, various PA citizens have now filed complaints asking the IRS to investigate the matter. Will the IRS revoke Christ Community Church‘s tax-exempt status? Maybe not; the IRS gives wide scope to supposed religious expression.
But either way, the IRS should at least conduct a full audit of the church’s activities and issue a public finding documenting any violations of election and tax laws. Likewise, the PA’s Commonwealth Secretary is expected to investigate the details of Mastriano’s campaign and his involvement in the event.
Perhaps Mr. Mastriano could start respecting the laws he has sworn to respect, instead of fomenting support for a revolution based on religion.
Terry Keating is a lawyer and longtime resident of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.