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Oklahoma pastor, political group under scrutiny for alleged tax status violations

As the Nov. 2 midterm election date nears, political watchdogs are getting picky.

That's not to say they shouldn't, regardless of how near or far an election day is. Everyone should play by the rules when it comes to campaigns.

And IRS rules under tax code section 501(c)(3), which provides nonprofit status to churches, religious groups and other organizations, say that such entities "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."

However, efforts that are strictly designed to educate voters or conduct broader get-out-the-vote drives are OK as long as the groups conduct them in a nonpartisan manner.

Precincts workers taped a 100 foot electioneering limit sign on a car in front of the Clements Community Center in Lakewood, Colorado on election day on November 4, 2008. Long lines characteristic of 2004 election day voting failed to materialize due to more than half the Colorado voters casting early ballots. (UPI Photo/Gary C. Caskey) Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom

This tomato, tomahto debate leaves some wiggle room, which is why, especially over the last decade or so as more advocacy groups have been created and political partisanship has increased, we've seen a growing number of complaints about improper political activities.

Take, for example, the concerns of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The group is convinced that the political actions of an Oklahoma pastor definitely are improper.

It wants the IRS to investigate Paul Blair for alleged violation of the federal tax law in light of an e-mail that the minister sent last month to his congregation in advance of a rally for Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern.

Kern is facing Brittany Novotny, a transgender candidate. And Blair, who has established the nonprofit  Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ to help support Kern's re-election, both through rallies and financially, reportedly encouraged his church members to make a stand against the bid by the "homosexual lobby" to take over her state House seat.

Not just religious in nature: Similarly, a political 501(c)(3) is under tax scrutiny, or so hope the Democrats who've asked the IRS to look into actions by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

AFP's nonprofit division has been running advertisements in Kansas, Missouri and Michigan that, says the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, are inherently "political in nature," in violation of the previously cited federal tax law.

AFP says its Foundation activities are protected by the First Amendment.

As we wait for the IRS to decide whether to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Oklahoma pastor and AFP, a move which could cost each group dearly, don't be surprised to see more such complaints from both sides as election rhetoric heats up.

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