Churches could lose tax-free status if they play Kamala’s campaign video for Terry McAuliffe

Doug Wilder, Virginia‘s only black ex-governor in history and a Democrat, warned Vice President Kamala Harris and Terry McAuliffe that churches could lose their tax-exempt status if they play a video for the gubernatorial candidate’s contentious election next week. 

Harris cut a video urging churchgoers to vote for McAuliffe, a Democrat that was to play at hundreds of black churches across the Old Dominion on Sunday. 

‘Well, it’s very good for her to do that, causing these churches to lose their tax-exempt status,’ Wilder sneered, referencing the Johnson Amendment, which bans organizations that are tax-exempt from supporting any candidate. ‘If this is legal, then it’s surprising to me,’ he said, according to the Washington Examiner.

The ad was to begin running on the first day of early voting on Sunday, in what is known as a ‘Souls to the polls’ event where black churchgoers cast their vote after Sunday service.

Between October 17 and November 2 Harris’ ad is playing at more than 300 black churches across the state.

Harris campaigned for McAuliffe in Dumfries, Va. on Oct. 21

Churches and other non-profits risk losing their tax-exempt status if they actively promote a candidate or mobilize volunteers or others in support of a specific campaign. 

If a church is found in violation of the law it could be forced to pay taxes for every year it’s engaged in political activity. 

However, tax code does allow these organizations to partake in nonpartisan political activity, like hosting debates or election facilities. 

‘I believe that my friend Terry McAuliffe is the leader Virginia needs at this moment,’ Harris says in the video.

‘Early voting has already started, and this is the first year that you can vote on Sunday, so please vote after today’s service, and if you cannot vote today, make a plan to go vote.’ 

‘In 2020, more Virginians voted than ever before. And because you did, you helped send President Joe Biden and me to the White House. This year, I know that you will send Terry McAuliffe back to Richmond.’

McAuliffe has been slipping in the polls since his commanding lead earlier in the campaign cycle

Glenn Youngkin is a Virginia businessman backed by Donald Trump

Former Virginia Governor McAuliffe (left), widely seen as Democratic powerhouse, has been slipping in the polls against Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin (right)

Democrats are bringing in heavyweights like Barack Obama and President Biden to ensure they don't lose Virginia, where they've held every statewide office since 2009

Democrats are bringing in heavyweights like Barack Obama and President Biden to ensure they don’t lose Virginia, where they’ve held every statewide office since 2009 

Wealthy businessman and political newcomer Glenn Youngkin speaks during a rally on October 23, 2021 in Henrico, Virginia

Wealthy businessman and political newcomer Glenn Youngkin speaks during a rally on October 23, 2021 in Henrico, Virginia

He previously served as governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who testified for Republicans during Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings, said on Fox News said tax-exempt groups ‘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.’

Jan Baran, a partner at Holtzman Vogel Baran Torchinsky & Josefiak PLLC, suggested to Fox News that the Johnson Amendment may not apply to this video as it is not an endorsement from church leadership itself. 

‘This assumes the church is speaking. Are the pastors making the statements or Harris?’ 

Wilder, the 90-year-old who ran Virginia from 1990 to 1994, is no supporter of McAuliffe. Earlier this year, he grew frustrated that Democrats like McAuliffe were taking the black vote for granted. 

‘No Democrat, in recent times, has won an election in Virginia without strong minority votes,’ Wilder wrote earlier this year. ‘Why should he expect that vote to be there for him in 2021 having shown such little appreciation for it?’ Wilder said of McAuliffe.

One of Wilder’s grievances is that he believes Virginia Democrats like McAuliffe and current Gov. Ralph Northam have shortchanged historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). 

‘And yet without historical black colleges and universities, many of us would never have had an education, and you’re talking to one of them now,’ Wilder said, noting that Youngkin has explicitly promised to fund the schools. ‘When Glenn Youngkin says that it’s a high priority, there are people who won’t forget it.’ 

Harris also appeared at an event for McAuliffe in Dumfries, Va. last week.  

Meanwhile, nervous Democrats have recruited President Biden to campaign for McAuliffe again as a new poll shows him tied with Republican Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race.  

Wednesday’s Monmouth University survey showed 46 per cent of registered voters favoring McAuliffe, while 46 per cent support Youngkin, a wealthy businessman who formerly worked for the Carlyle Group.

Youngkin overtakes McAuliffe for the first time when pollsters used a turnout model that predicted moderate turnout overall with a whiter electorate.

In that scenario, the Republican led the Democrat 48 per cent to 45 per cent.

The race has tightened in Virginia – which went for Biden by nearly 10 points – as Biden’s approval numbers have slipped.

Biden now stands at 43 per cent approval and 52 per cent disapproval among the commonwealth’s voters.

The president has lost support as the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill has bickered over his two key packages – a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the so-called ‘Build Back Better’ reconciliation package, with no end of negotiations in sight.

Earlier this month a video of a teleconference meeting between McAuliffe and supporters surfaced in which the Virginia governor appeared to try and distance himself from the flailing Biden administration and its crises.

‘We’ve got to get Democrats out to vote,’ McAuliffe said in a 12-second video clip of a teleconference. ‘We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know.’

‘The president is unpopular today unfortunately here in Virginia so we have got to plow through.’

In recent days, Harris, First Lady Jill Biden and Barack Obama have all traveled to Virginia to campaign for McAuliffe, understanding the dire consequences if Youngkin were to win where Democrats haven’t yet lost a statewide race sinc 2009.