On Saturday, Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of the virulently anti-choice Priests for Life, announced that his organization would be distributing the voting records of every member of Congress on the Stupak-Pitts amendment to every Catholic parish in the United States, “with instructions to each pastor on how to make clear to his congregation the implications of how that congregation’s representative voted,” according to a press release. The plan, declared a statement from Pavone, is “to inform pastors of these voting records is phase one of a year-long effort to activate Churches as never before regarding what they can legally do in preparation for next year’s midterm elections. Publishing voting records in a non-partisan fashion is certainly one of those activities.”
But a church-state separation watchdog questions whether Pavone’s plan violates IRS rules against churches endorsing political candidates.
“Father Pavone’s latest stunt definitely sounds like a problem,” Rob Boston, Senior Policy Analyst for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, told RD. “Priests for Life is apparently planning to distribute a voter guide narrowly focused on the issue of abortion in advance of the 2010 House elections. This is a clear violation of IRS regulations, which state that voter guides must be based on a range of issues. The guide Pavone proposes would be so narrowly focused that it would amount to a de facto endorsement of certain candidates.”
Boston added, “Americans United has warned Pavone before about his questionable election-related activities. We intend to watch him closely during the next year.”
According to IRS guidance on voter guides, “Preparing or distributing a voter guide may violate the prohibition against political campaign intervention if the guide focuses on a single issue or narrow range of issues, or if the questions are structured to reflect bias. Although any document that identifies candidates and their positions close in time to an election has the potential to result in political campaign intervention, preparation or distribution of voter guides, because of their nature, present a particular risk for non compliance.”