The Baltimore field office of the Internal Revenue Service has granted tax-exempt status to the Freedom Council, the organization that television evangelist Marion G. (Pat) Robertson has been using to get Christian evangelicals involved in politics.
The May 28 ruling means that donors to the Freedom Council, which played a critical role in recruiting precinct delegates for the Aug. 5 Michigan Republican primary, may deduct contributions from their taxable income.
"We are out on track," said Mark Nuttle, head of Robertson's Committee for Freedom, a political committee. Nuttle, who also has worked closely with the Freedom Council, said, "I knew we were going to get it tax-deductible status . We plan to continue the original purpose of the Freedom Council, which is to educate people on a broad range of issues and further the democratic process."
A news story yesterday in The Washington Post quoted officials and publications of the Freedom Council saying that IRS approval of the request for tax-deductible status was pending. The Baltimore IRS office granted the status in a letter dated May 28, but neither Freedom Council officials nor the IRS Washington public information staff were aware earlier this week that the decision had been made.
In a related development, however, sources reported that another section of the IRS, the exempt organization division, has begun making inquiries with the Federal Election Commission, including the FEC's legal office, about the activities of politically active tax-exempt foundations, including the Freedom Council.
The exempt organization division in the IRS bureaucracy acts separately from the field office and can initiate inquiries on tax questions after the field office has granted approval of tax-deductibility status for an organization. Robertson is one of many prospective presidential candidates with close ties to foundations claiming tax-exempt status. Others include Sen. Gary Hart (R-Colo.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.).
The Freedom Council, which has an annual budget of about $4 million, spent more than $300,000 in Michigan to persuade Christian evangelicals and other conservatives to run for precinct delegate in the August primary. That primary is an early step leading to the selection of Michigan's delegates to the 1988 GOP convention.
Nuttle defended the Freedom Council's tax-exempt status, arguing that its sponsorship of numerous events in Michigan with Robertson as the principal speaker was not designed to encourage his presidential bid. "Yes, the fact is that Pat is being spoken about as a potential candidate," Nuttle said, but "he's never done anything with them that's partisan. Nowhere has he said that it the Freedom Council is Republican or Democratic."