In a landmark decision by the US Supreme Court, corporations were deemed to have equal rights of free speech in political campaigns, prohibiting the government from restricting their spending. While we believe this decision has severe, dangerous implications for the American political process and poses an economic danger to American citizens of all economic and social levels, we raise this next question: Is a religious institution a corporation under the decision.
Corporations, like people are required to pay taxes, a fundamental criteria for being deemed to have the same rights as citizens. However, religious institutions are tax-exempt and thus, we hold, exempt from the same rights and therefore prohibited from spending any money in any manner in political campaigns or elections of any type.
An example of this is the effort to pass California’s Proposition 8 which banned same-sex marriage. The Mormon church, based in Utah, with very few members located in California spent $20 Million to pass the legislation, bolstered comparably by the Catholic Knights of Columbus, another not-for-profit tax exempt religious institution.
Should any institution gaining a direct tax benefit or, indeed Federal grant money, contracts or other benefits from the government spend its funds in a political campaign, whether it’s a legislative issue or the election of a particular candidate.
It’s not just about same-sex issues. Women’s reproductive rights are always being subjected to legislative scrutiny and legislation being influenced by religious institutions funding lobbying efforts to alter the rights of women. While we’re not taking a position in favor of, or against abortions, the question is truly about the dollars and sense of any tax-exempt entity being deemed in the same manner as a profit-making corporation.
In political campaigns, should tax-exempt institutions, whether religious or not, be allowed to fund either campaigns of candidates or political advertising to influence any vote?
Do we not risk such institutions attempting to influence and change laws that would potentially benefit their members, their churches or businesses that may belong to the institution? If an organization does sponsor legislation that is particularly beneficial to its members or position and financial benefit is gained, this is clearly harmful to the taxpayer and likely to the average citizen.
We could see companies benefit indirectly from laws passed or candidates who support efforts to provide government contracts, grants and low interest loans through religious or non-profit entities. Ultimately, this could result in far greater annual cost to the American taxpayer than the cumulative earmarks Congress passed over the past five decades.
Could a defense contract be won or influenced by churches or non-profits influencing the election or re-election of a candidate favorable to the contractor?
If corporations as profitable institutions are unrestricted under the Citizens United decision, most assuredly, any entity that receives a tax benefit or contracts from government, even if they’re for profit must be exempted from the decision. Essentially, Justice Stevens, now retired and in his 90’s pointed out recently in a speech and written articles that this is critical. While the Supreme Court has ruled, it doesn’t prevent Congress from enacting legislation to curb the overall effect and limiting this right to companies that have no direct financial gain at present from government.
We believe any company obtaining government contracts should be exempted, as well as any non-profit entity, religious or not, obtaining a tax exemption of any kind. Likely, Congress will not pass such a law, but it’s likely the Court will be forced to rule against itself in the future when some scandal arises as a result of the misguided Citizens United decision.