Friday, January 11, 2008

"Dragging houses of worship into partisan campaigns."

IRS asked to investigate Texas Restoration Project's funding

Governor's spokesman says religious nonprofit did nothing wrong

January 11, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – The Internal Revenue Service has been asked to investigate whether a Houston-based foundation funded by financial backers of Gov. Rick Perry improperly spent more than $1 million to boost his re-election by mobilizing evangelical Christians.

The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors church-state issues, said Thursday that the Texas Restoration Project hid the source of its funding until after Mr. Perry's 2006 re-election.

Kathy Miller, who heads the Texas Freedom Network, asked the IRS to investigate whether the Republican governor and his financial backers broke the law by "dragging our houses of worship into partisan campaigns."

Robert Black, a Perry spokesman, said neither the governor nor the group had done anything inappropriate.

Federal law forbids nonprofit groups from engaging in partisan politics.

Mr. Black said the Texas Restoration Project did not endorse specific candidates. He said Mr. Perry participated in a series of closed-door pastor briefings to encourage conservative Christians to get involved in politics.

"This is simply a smokescreen to hide the fact that the Texas Freedom Network does not want people of faith involved in elections," Mr. Black said.

Mr. Perry took an active role in the development of the Texas Restoration Project, a network of pastors that encouraged voter registration and the election of candidates reflecting a conservative moral agenda.

He championed the group's efforts to pass a gay-marriage ban on the 2005 ballot and to increase religious conservative voters

The group hosted thousands of pastors and their spouses at a series of closed-door "Pastors' Policy Briefings" in 2005 in Austin, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio. It also sponsored an event to celebrate Mr. Perry's inauguration in 2007.

Mr. Perry was the only 2006 gubernatorial candidate invited to participate in the pastor briefings. His campaign had access to the nonprofit group's mailing and e-mail lists. Other GOP statewide officeholders did attend some of the briefings.

Ms. Miller alleges that the efforts masked a sophisticated voter identification and mobilization strategy intended to benefit the Perry campaign in 2006.

Federal tax documents list four "substantial contributors" to the foundation: San Antonio school-voucher advocate James Leininger, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, East Texas poultry executive Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim and Colleyville beer distributor Don O'Neal.

All four are major contributors to Mr. Perry and GOP candidates.

The Dallas Morning News first reported the project's existence in 2005. It has since become a model for other similar organizations formed in other states, including Iowa.

© 2008 The Dallas Morning News Co

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