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The Devout Need Not Fear an Audit

By Dana Milbank
Sunday, October 31, 2004; Page A04

It's an outrage! Or is it?

And indignant Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) issued a news release Thursday announcing: "JONES CONDEMNS IRS DECISION TO STOP CHURCHES FROM PRAYING FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES." The congressman proclaimed himself "enraged today by an IRS announcement that churches will risk their tax-exempt status if they pray for the election of either President Bush or Senator Kerry."

WorldNetDaily, a conservative Web site, was equally outraged. "The Internal Revenue Service has declared people gathered in tax-exempt churches can't pray for President Bush to win the election on Tuesday."

That would indeed be outrageous -- if true. In fact, the IRS has done no such thing. "The IRS has never issued a ruling telling people how to pray," the agency said. "Our rules involving prayer have not changed."

Here's what happened.

Last month, Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice wrote to the IRS on behalf of the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, asking whether his plan to lead prayers for Bush's reelection in churches in Ohio and Pennsylvania would violate federal tax law. The agency responded in the standard way, acknowledging receipt of the letter and enclosing a copy of IRS Publication 1828, the guidelines regarding church political activities.

A lawyer for Robertson's group, James M. Henderson Sr., regarded this as a "form letter" and followed up in a phone conversation with an IRS official. It was that phone conversation that left Henderson with the impression that "prayers directed to God seeking his intervention in an election" would be treated the same as political campaign speeches from the pulpit. Henderson sent another letter to the IRS on Thursday seeking clarification.

The IRS is deliberately ambiguous on such matters, and only egregious violations are prosecuted. "Praying for a candidate in and of itself does not present difficulties," assures IRS spokesman Frank Keith. So parishioners remain free to pray for the candidate of their choice in church Sunday morning. And, judging from recent polls, both candidates will need it.

A Labored Projection

The Labor Department has produced a report predicting that President Bush will win reelection on Tuesday.

This extraordinary example of your tax dollars at work was produced on Oct. 22 by the department's Employment and Training Administration. The report, a weekly installment of the "Briefing on Economic & Labor Market Conditions" prepared for Assistant Secretary Emily Stover DeRocco, a political appointee, begins with a brief review of economic statistics. Then it gets down to business with a four-page section titled: "In Focus: Predicting the Election Outcome."

The prediction? (Drumroll, please.) A smashing victory for Bush.

Surveying various economic prediction models, the report concludes that "the models look much better for the president than the polls do, which indicate that the race is neck-in-neck. Nearly every single model has him winning." It noted two models predicting Bush would get 57.5 percent and 55.7 percent of the vote.

There is also an intriguing discussion of election prediction models based on job growth. It "would seem logical that this model would show poor results for the present administration. But it doesn't. President Bush is still predicted to receive 51.2 percent of the vote."

Asked about this, the Labor Department was contrite. "This appears to be an internal ETA document prepared by midlevel ETA staff," spokesman Ed Frank said. "Clearly, this kind of armchair political analysis doesn't belong in government memos, even if they are entirely internal."

Rove's No Fortuneteller

Karl C. Rove's middle name certainly isn't Cassandra.

Bush's political strategist was overflowing with optimism as he briefed reporters Thursday at a Bush rally. "We feel very good," he said. "We'll win." He said the campaign's internal polls show Bush even or ahead in eight of the 10 battleground states, and said "nothing's happening" for Democrats in states such as Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Asked about high voter turnout, which is expected to favor Democrats, he said, "The bigger the turnout the better." He also predicted upsets for Bush in some states presumed to be for Kerry.

But then an impertinent questioner reminded Rove of the week before the election in 2000, when, using similar internal polls, he predicted Bush would get 320 electoral votes, 50 more than needed to win, including a comfortable win in Florida.

"Rub my nose in it," Rove replied.

Diversity in Leadership

Some of his best friends are gay.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization, has named Michael Berman as its board co-chairman. That makes the lobbyist and longtime Democratic pooh-bah the first heterosexual to hold such a high leadership position in this or, HRC believes, any other gay organization. "As more straight Americans have openly gay friends or loved ones, Mike's new role at HRC is emblematic of the evolving demography of voters who care about this issue," the group said in a statement, also noting: "Berman and his wife Carol have been married for 39 years."

Staff writer Alan Cooperman contributed to this report.


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