Lansing church uses pulpit to raise money for City Council candidate

Tabernacle of David may have violated IRS rules and regulations by soliciting donations for Tamera Carter during worship service


 FRIDAY, Aug. 4 —- A local pastor entered at least a grey area last Sunday when he seemed to endorse Lansing City Council candidate Tamera Carter and solicit money for her from his congregation.

After Carter, who is running for an at-large seat in Tuesday’s primary, spoke to the congregation, Tabernacle of David Pastor Paul Elam Jr. praised her work with the church as a board member and cited biblical verses about the importance of electing “righteous” candidates.

Elam told the congregation he could not tell them whom to vote for, but he could encourage them to vote. He then noted that Carter was “righteous,” heaped her with praise, then had the support team put up an image of her campaign watch party invitation. The invitation explicitly sought donations to attend, and Elam noted those amounts, $25, $50 and $100, then stated, “I know some of you can afford to give $1,000 right now. My wife and I will be supporting her.”

IRS rules for charitable and religious organizations prohibit the intervention in an election either in favor or opposition of a candidate. If a complaint is filed, the organization could face the loss of its charitable status as well as taxation.

Michigan Campaign Finance Network Executive Director Nick Pigeon said he believes the activity rose to the level of violating IRS rules prohibiting religious organizations and charities from intervening in a campaign to either support or oppose a candidate.

Despite Elam’s statement that he could not endrose, Pigeon said that taking it all in context, it appeared to violate the rules.

Pigeon reviewed a YouTube video of the service  — which has since been taken down — then said, “Logically that seems like an endorsement, and it seems like it would be a violation of IRS 501(C)3-1,” a reference to federal religious nonprofit status. “You can't intervene in a campaign.”

He said that the “transparent” support for Carter by the church leadership “seems very prosecutable.”

But he noted that Elam’s statement about not endorsing a candidate was enough for the “IRS not to prosecute it.”

He said Elam walked a “fine line” enough “for the IRS not to really take it seriously.”

Reached today, Elam said the church is seeking “some clarification on what the church can do and what individuals can do.”

“If I know that we were wrong — I was wrong — 've already told you what I plan to do: the video will come down and we will address it in our next service,” Elam said.

He said that the board had no involvement with his message. He is attempting to better understand where his leadership stands. The video was removed while he and the leadership of the church review IRS rules and regulations, as well as what was said and done during the service.

“I am not ready to say the church did this,” he said. “I did it, as a pastor. If I was wrong, I was wrong. But we’re trying to work out if this impacts the church or not because there is nothing from the board in writing, and they speak for the church, not me.”

Carter’s attendance at the service was raised by Facebook posts from Republican activist Linda Lee Tarver. She posted images of herself at the service as well as with Carter. Lansing City Council Member Jeffrey Brown was also present at the service and was acknowledged by Elam in his introduction to Carter. 

Carter, who said during her appearance that she would speak to anyone about her campaign and the city, did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

This is the second time Carter has been in the news this week. Campaign finance reports show that Carter accepted a total of $5,000 from the political action committees despite having called Lansing Mayor Andy Schor unethical for having donated to one of her opponents, Missy Lilje, through his political action committee.

Pigeon said that while the incident did not violate Michigan campaign finance laws, it is important for voters to be aware of the potential violation of federal law. In addition, he said, the activity may have caused people to feel pressured to support Carter in the election.

“The church might be an important part of their community, but I feel like if you're a part of that congregation, you would feel pressured that you're not a true member of that church if you support one political candidate or the other,” Pigeon said. “There should be a separation between politics and religion. Your religion shouldn't have to control everything about your political life.”

Omar Sheihk-Farhan, one  of Carter's opponents in the City Council, criticized Elam tonight.

"Sir, your church has undermined the unity and inclusivity that churches should strive to maintain. I hope your church does not divert from its primary mission, which is to provide spiritual guidance and support to your congregants. Focus on serving God, not your political candidates! Btw, I’m very righteous," he said in a Facebook post — to which he appended a smiley face.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us