Watchdog Says Charity Broke Rules in Alabama Senate Race

(CN) – A political watchdog group filed a complaint with the IRS claiming a nonprofit charity headed by the wife of Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore broke the law by using its contributions to advocate for her husband’s campaign.

Roy Moore, one of two Republican candidates vying for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In a letter sent to the IRS on Thursday, the Campaign Legal Center asked the agency to immediately investigate the Foundation for Moral Law, alleging it used its Facebook page to share “official campaign advertisements” and wrote messages in support of Moore’s campaign to members of its email list. FML’s president is Moore’s wife, Kayla Moore.

“Charities play an important role in civil society and their individual members have complete freedom to engage in partisan politics,” said Brendan Fischer, CLC’s director of federal and FEC reform. “It is illegal for the organizations themselves to use tax-exempt resources to intervene in political elections, and it is the job of the IRS to ensure it stays that way.”

The complaint to the IRS comes on the eve of the runoff primary between Moore and Luther Strange.

Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is running against Strange, the state’s former attorney general, for a U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Jeff Sessions was tapped for attorney general in the Trump administration. The runoff vote between the two Republicans is Sept. 26.

This weekend, the candidates are scheduled to hold blowout rallies featuring some of their biggest endorsers to push their supporters to the polls Tuesday. They seek the Republican nomination for the Senate seat, in a race which will ultimately be decided in a special election Dec. 12.

According to the CLC, if a charitable organization distributes written statements to support or oppose a particular candidate, it can lose its nonprofit status because it no longer qualifies for the nonprofit designation under IRS rules.

CLC’s letter to the IRS claims the Moores’ foundation sent emails previewing the launch of Moore’s campaign and linked to statements made by the campaign.

A look at FML’s Facebook page shows that it started sharing links to news articles announcing the start of Moore’s Senate campaign in late April.

For example, on April 26, the foundation posted a link to an AL.com story titled “Roy Moore announces run for US Senate: Alabama chief justice challenging Luther Strange.” With the link, the foundation wrote: “UPDATE ON OUR FOUNDER.”

Moore’s announcement came less than a week after the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the state’s Court of the Judiciary decision to remove him as the state’s chief justice. That court found Moore violated judicial ethics when he told probate judges in Alabama to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

It was Moore’s second suspension from the state’s high court. He was also benched in 2003 for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments.

On Aug. 2, FML shared a post written by Kayla Moore. It was a press release attacking the Senate Leadership Fund for producing a television advertisement that said Moore was heavily compensated when he was head of the foundation.

The Senate Leadership Fund is a PAC that supports Strange, who was appointed to fill the Sessions’ former seat on an interim basis.

The press release included a statement by FML board member John Bentley: “I am calling on Mr. Strange to demand this Ad be pulled from every station. If he fails to do so, he is personally endorsing this lie. In fact, I am so outraged that I am personally joining the request to have Governor [Kay] Ivey have the Alabama Ethics Commission look into all past and current dealings of Luther Strange. Luther has dropped to a new low by attacking our Foundation with gross distortions and untruths.”

FML took in $372,030 in grants and contributions in 2014, according to documents submitted to the IRS.

Its mission, it told the IRS, is “educating the public and promoting current litigation activity aimed at moral and religious issues.”

That includes submitting amicus briefs, providing legal counsel in religious liberty cases and hosting seminars to educate the public and pastors about the separation of church and state and IRS rules on nonprofits, according to its website.

FML attorney Matthew Clark said in a statement that the foundation “has and will always abide by the rules set forth by the Internal Revenue Service.”

“The CLC’s sudden interest in the foundation is politically-motivated, and we suggest they abide by the rules for political engagement to which they are supposedly so committed,” Clark said.

Moore’s campaign did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

The Moores started FML in December 2002, shortly after a federal judge ordered Roy Moore to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments that he placed in the courthouse in Montgomery. Moore’s refusal to remove the monument ultimately caused him to be removed from his position as Alabama chief justice for the first time the following year.

The CLC describes itself as a nonpartisan law organization focusing on protecting voting rights, particularly in the face of dark money creeping into the political process. Former Federal Election Commission Chair Trevor Potter started the organization in 2002.

Then-President George H.W. Bush nominated Potter, a Republican, to the commission in 1991. In 2012, Potter helped Stephen Colbert start his satirical super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

The CLC recently released results of a poll that found 71 percent of Americans want the Supreme Court to limit gerrymandering, and also called on Facebook to disclose which foreign organization bought ads on its platform to sway the 2016 presidential elections.

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