Obama speech to denomination spurs IRS investigation of UCC

A speech that Barack Obama made last year to his fellow Congregationalists has spurred an Internal Revenue Service investigation that threatens the tax-exempt status of an entire denomination.Leaders of the Illinois senator’s United Church of Christ are fighting back, saying the IRS charges are baseless and “disturbing.”

In a letter dated Feb. 20 and received by church officials Feb. 25, IRS official Marsha Ramirez said “a reasonable belief exists” that the denomination violated federal law. Churches and other non-profit groups organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code are barred from endorsing or opposing candidates and political parties.

The UCC is generally considered the nation’s most liberal large Protestant body. Obama has been an active member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for more than two decades. Trinity is the UCC’s largest congregation.

In the IRS letter, Ramirez said the agency’s concerns “are based on articles posted on several websites” that described Obama’s June 23 appearance at the UCC’s biennial General Synod meeting in Hartford, Conn. The senator — by then an announced Democratic candidate for president — spoke to about 10,000 church members, according to the denomination and news accounts.

But UCC officials said they took pains to ensure that the speech was not perceived as a campaign event or an endorsement of the candidate.

Obama was invited “as one of 60 diverse speakers representing the arts, media, academia, science, technology, business and government. Each was asked to reflect on the intersection of their faith and their respective vocations or fields of expertise,” a UCC news release said. It also said church officials invited Obama as a church member rather than in his capacity as a candidate and said they asked him to speak a year before he declared his intention to run for higher office.

“The United Church of Christ took great care to ensure that Sen. Obama’s appearance before the … General Synod met appropriate legal and moral standards,” UCC General Minister John Thomas said in the news release. “We are confident that the IRS investigation will confirm that no laws were violated.”

Prior to the speech, a church official told the crowd that the appearance was not intended to be a campaign event and that campaign-related material and other forms of electioneering would not be allowed inside the event venue.

The IRS letter claimed that “40 Obama volunteers staffed campaign tables outside” the Hartford Civic Center, where the event was held. But church officials said they barred any campaigning inside the venue.

Thomas said that, while he believes the investigation will ultimately acquit the denomination, he nonetheless is concerned about its effect.

“The very fact of” the investigation’s existence “is disturbing,” Thomas said. “When the invitation to an elected public official to speak to the national meeting of his own church family is called into question, it has a chilling effect on every religious community that seeks to encourage politicians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities.”

IRS officials do not discuss such investigations with the press because tax information is private. But several ministries and local congregations have been warned and investigated in recent years for electioneering.

The agency is currently investigating Southern Baptist pastor Wiley Drake for using church letterhead and a church-sponsored radio show to endorse Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Last year, the IRS ended an investigation without any sanctions against All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif. It had been under investigation for a guest sermon its former rector had given just before the 2004 presidential election. In it, he strongly criticized the war in Iraq but said he believed that both President Bush and his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, were good Christians.

IRS officials contended that the sermon amounted to an endorsement of Kerry over Bush. The church contested the charge. In a September letter to the congregation announcing that it was ending its investigation without penalty, IRS officials said they continued to believe the church had illegally intervened in the election.

All Saints’ legal defense ended up costing more than $200,000, according to church leaders. Anticipating a similar financial burden for the UCC, Thomas sent an appeal Feb. 27 to church members asking them to donate to a special legal-defense fund.

“In order to adequately defend ourselves, as well as protect the broader principle of the freedom of religious communities to entertain questions of faith and public life, we will need to secure expert legal counsel, and the cost of this defense, we are told, could approach or exceed six figures,” Thomas wrote. “This is troubling news.”

Advertisements
Posted in OBama. Tags: , . Leave a Comment »

Poll: Clinton’s lead vanishes in New Hampshire

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Democrat Hillary Clinton has lost her once-comfortable lead over rival Barack Obama in the crucial primary state of New Hampshire, according to a poll released Friday.

In the new poll conducted by the Concord Monitor, Obama surpasses the New York senator by 1 percentage point: 32 percent to 31 percent. Meanwhile, John Edwards comes in a distant third with 15 percent support among likely Democratic voters, while Bill Richardson is fourth with 7 percent.

Speaking to reporters in Iowa Friday, Clinton commented on several recent polls both in Iowa and New Hampshire that show she is tied with Obama.

“I guess I’ve been in enough campaigns over a lot of years to know that there is no predictability and there certainly is no inevitability,” she said. “You have to get out and work for every single vote. That’s what I have always done. I don’t know any other way to do it.”

Meanwhile, at a separate event in Iowa, Obama commented on his rise in the polls, saying, “people are receptive to this message of change.”

“I am confident in my ability to lead this country,” he said. “And increasingly we are doing well. Not just here in Iowa but across the country.”

Obama’s chances of success in the Granite State will likely hinge on how many independents show up at the polls. Unlike many states, New Hampshire allows unaffiliated voters to vote in either the Republican primary or the Democratic primary — an allowance that often can give a boost to candidates who are viewed as outside their party establishment.

Of independent voters who are likely to vote in the Democratic primary, the poll shows Obama has a wide lead over Clinton, 40 percent to 23 percent. Meanwhile Clinton holds the lead over Obama when it comes to registered Democrats in the state, 36 percent to 27 percent.

The poll also shows Obama is making inroads with women in the Granite State. The Illinois senator now edges out Clinton in that demographic, 34 percent to 32 percent.

The poll carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Young activists furious with Clinton, Dodd

Many youth activists are furious with the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) for suggesting that college students who did not grow up in Iowa should not caucus there in January — and they are delivering that message both publicly and privately.

“It’s terrible to have candidates making misleading statements about whether or not students can caucus,” said Alexandra Acker, executive director of the Young Democrats of America.

“I’m very worried about the caucus-day implications of this,” Acker said, concerned that discouraging students from caucusing will make an existing problem worse. “Students are disenfranchised at higher rates to begin with.”

Young Voter PAC, another Democratic youth organization, has also responded aggressively. The political action committee, which works with Democratic candidates to engage young voters, founded the Facebook group “Hey Clinton, Stop Telling Young Voters to Stay Home.”

Rock the Vote issued a statement encouraging students from out of state to vote. Student PIRGs Young Voters Project put out a release from a number of its student leaders in Iowa saying, “We live here in Iowa for the majority of the year. … To say that students who didn’t grow up in Iowa, but who now live here, shouldn’t have the choice to participate in the caucuses is blatant voter disenfranchisement.”

The argument centers on whether to encourage Iowa college students from out of state to caucus in Iowa — as the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is doing — or to frown at it, as the Clinton and Dodd campaigns have hinted at.

Drawing an implicit contrast with the Obama campaign, Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee said, “We are not systematically trying to manipulate the Iowa caucuses with out-of-state people; we don’t have literature recruiting out-of-state college students.”

And Dodd’s Iowa state Director Julie Andreeff Jensen accused Obama of “scheming to evade either the spirit or the letter of the rules that guide the process.”

By last week, it seemed that youth activists like Acker had made some headway when both campaigns released statements saying that all eligible voters should caucus. But both candidates and their surrogates have continued to sound ambiguous notes since then.

Dodd declared that students who did not grow up in Iowa should not caucus, saying, “If you’re from Hartford, Conn., and you’re going to school at the University of Iowa, and you’re paying out-of-state tuition, you’re [unfairly] casting yourself as an Iowan.”

David Yepsen, the influential Des Moines Register columnist, criticized the Obama campaign Dec. 1 for distributing a pamphlet informing student supporters that even if they are out of state on Jan. 3 they can return to Iowa and caucus at their school precinct.
Read the rest here

Tension in Hillaryland Grows as Plan Goes Awry

Bloomberg – By Albert R. Hunt

Dec. 10 (Bloomberg) — To appreciate Hillary Clinton’s fundamental political problem, consider the 11 Democrats from Philadelphia who gathered last week to discuss the U.S. presidential race, almost all of whom would vote for her in a general election.

The focus group was moderated by an expert on such forums, Democratic pollster Peter Hart. The participants were informed and enthusiastic about their party’s prospects, had no interest in the Republicans or third-party candidates, and were about equally balanced between front-runners Clinton and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

When Hart pushed the group during a two-hour conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates, a different picture emerged.

Obama, they worried, can’t win the nomination; voters aren’t ready for an African-American president (a point expressed most directly by the two black women participants), and he may not be sufficiently experienced.

A couple of victories in Iowa and New Hampshire would cure most of those problems.

The concerns about Clinton, 60, a New York senator, are that she is devious, calculating and, fairly or not, a divisive figure in American politics.

Those are a lot tougher to overcome.

It was revealing, too, when Hart pushed them to envision these senators as leaders of the country or, as he put it, their “boss.” Obama, they say, would be inspirational, motivating, charismatic and compassionate. After praising Clinton’s experience and intelligence, they say she would be demanding, difficult, maybe even a little scary.

Driven by Polls

Candor and authenticity were repeatedly cited. “I don’t feel like I look at her and see someone who’s telling me the whole truth,” says Allison Lowrey, a 30-year-old human- resources consultant. “I’d like to see her approach a problem without the polls” helping her make her decision, says Andrew Alebergo, a 39-year-old tanning-salon operator.

Even strong Hillary supporters acknowledge the electorate’s deep-seated concerns. “She is walking a fine tightrope now, because she is such a divisive personality,” says Lynda Connelly, a thoughtful 58-year-old Red Cross manager. She plans to vote for Clinton while fearing that, if elected, “the right- wing noise machine is going to do everything it can to derail her.”

This isn’t an anti-Hillary crowd. She gets high marks for her experience, intelligence and toughness; these qualities, they suspect, are what voters demand.

Their hopes and dreams, though, are with Obama, 46. If he can dispel misgivings about his electability or experience, the formidable Clinton forces may be powerless.

Crying Out for Obama

After the session, Hart, who has done scores of these focus groups across America this year and directed major polls, summarized the challenges facing the front-runners.

“Obama fits the year in terms of aspirations and hopes,” he says. “When these voters talk about America today, they want a picture that almost cries out for Obama. But post-9/11, these voters may not be willing to take a chance. They need reassurance that Obama will be ready from Day One.”

Conversely, Clinton, in trying to get to the top of the mountain, Hart says, “has only looked at one face of the mountain — her experience, the emphasis on strength and toughness. She hasn’t recognized the other side of the mountain; she hasn’t allowed voters to see who she is and her personal dimension.”

Evaporating Lead

The Clinton camp has similar research; things are tense in Hillaryland these days.

Her once-commanding advantage over Obama in Iowa and New Hampshire — the two critical initial contests — is evaporating. She has gotten the worst of recent exchanges over Iran and health care.

There are also political strains with her greatest asset and surrogate, Bill Clinton. The former president was quoted last month as saying he had really opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning; he later claimed he was misquoted.

Top Clinton campaign officials were privately furious at the former president, saying he had revived the complaint that the Clintons lack credibility, unfairly tarnishing his wife in the process.

For his part, the former president, one close associate says, has been bouncing off the walls at the campaign’s ineptitude in the past few weeks. (It is not known if the Clintons shared any of these sentiments with each other).

The anxiety being felt by Bill Clinton, America’s most skillful politician, is understandable. Hillary’s campaign is off-balance.

Turning Negative

After falling behind in the Iowa polls, Senator Clinton, who earlier condemned attacks by other Democrats, turned negative on Obama. Fair enough. Except her attacks were neither focused nor effective. This strategy raised more questions about her than Obama.

And her campaign has a near-obsession with what it perceives as a hostile press. They were incensed at a New York Times story that reported skepticism about Hillary’s contention that her proposal to overhaul health care would help a lot more people than the plan of her rival. The best advice to them: Get over it.

It’s a good bet that Clinton, encouraged by her husband, is weighing a shakeup, such as bringing in former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta to direct the overall campaign. The question is whether it’s too late and too awkward before those first contests, which are to be held in 3 1/2 weeks.

Plan A Failing

The Clinton organization had a clear plan A: It envisioned the candidate, as the choice of the party establishment and natural heir to the presidency, to so dominate 2007 that she would be able to corner, not have to capture, the nomination. It worked perfectly for most of the year.

The strategy has imploded. In a similar situation, Bill Clinton would have changed plans on a dime — he could have gone from B to E during a rest stop.

Hillary has all the strengths cited by those Philadelphia Democrats and much more discipline than her husband. If she can’t adjust and rise to this challenge, however, she may well finish third in the Iowa caucuses and lose to Obama in New Hampshire. In the past 30 years, no candidate has lost both these tests and won the nomination.

(Albert R. Hunt is the executive editor for Washington at Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer of this column: Albert R. Hunt in Washington at ahunt1@bloomberg.net .

Reich: Clinton lacks ‘conviction about anything’

(CNN) – Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor issued a blistering criticism of the former president’s wife on Monday, accusing her of “not telling the truth” on Social Security and taking marching orders from her top pollster.

Reich, who has not endorsed a candidate but has written glowingly of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in recent months, ripped Hillary Clinton for saying Sunday that Iowa voters will have a choice “between someone who talks the talk, and somebody who’s walked the walk.”

“I don’t get it,” Reich wrote on his blog. “If there’s anyone in the race whose history shows unique courage and character, it’s Barack Obama. HRC’s campaign, by contrast, is singularly lacking in conviction about anything. Her pollster, Mark Penn, has advised her to take no bold positions and continuously seek the political center, which is exactly what she’s been doing.”

(just like I say constantly in this blog – she has no real convictions!) 

Reich, who calls Clinton “my old friend” in the blog post, has a long-stan

ding relationship with the Clintons, going back to when Reich and the former President were classmates and Rhodes Scholars at Oxford in the late 1960s. He left the Clinton administration in 1997 and now teaches public policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

Reich called Obama’s Social Security plan to lift the cap on payroll taxes above $98,000 “a progressive solution” and said Clinton’s preference to form a commission to examine how to fix Social Security is “avoiding the issue, and it’s irresponsible.”

He also picked apart Clinton’s health care plan: “HRC doesn’t indicate how she’d enforce her mandate, and I can’t find enough money in HRC’s plan to help all those who won’t be able to afford to buy it.”

Reich called the New York senator’s recent attacks on Obama a “series of slurs.”

“If she’s worried her polls are dropping, this is not the way to build them back up.”

The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

– CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby

Rove Advises Obama

By: Newsmax Staff

Barack Obama should cease acting “high-minded” and start “scrapping and fighting” with Hillary Clinton if he is to win the Democratic presidential nomination, according to former top Bush adviser Karl Rove.

Writing in the Financial Times, Rove says in a “memo to Obama” that the upcoming Iowa caucus is “your best chance” to beat Clinton, noting: “If you do not do it there, odds are you never will anywhere.”

Obama leads Clinton in the most recent Iowa poll.

But Rove, considered the chief architect of George Bush’s electoral successes, advises: “Striking a pose of being high-minded and too pure will not work. Americans want to see you scraping and fighting for the job, not in a mean or ugly way but in a forceful and straightforward way.”

Obama, according to the Republican pundit, “often comes over as weak and ineffectual. In some debates, you do not even look at her when disagreeing with her, making it look as if you are afraid of her…

“Sharpen your attacks and make them more precise.”

Obama should focus on concerns among Democrats that Hillary can’t win the general election and would be “a drag on the ticket, not to mention a “disaster” if she reaches the White House, Rove opines.

“You are running out of time,” he writes. “If she wins the nomination it will be because her rivals — namely you — were weak when you confronted her…

“She is beatable but you have to raise your game.”

2nd PLACE NATIONALLY!

Scott Rasmussen has the Hucketer in second place nationally behind Rudy.

In the race, Rudy leads with 24% support. Surging Governor Huckabee follows with 15%, Fred at 14%, McCain at 13% and Mitt Romney remainsthe choice for 10% – just making double digits.

For the Democrats, Hillary’s lead continues to shrink over Obama.

Read the daily Poll tracker here