On Fred Karger, Tax Exemptions, and the Mormon Church

Today, Fred Karger asked a provocative question: should the Mormon church lose its tax exemption? To answer that question, he’s asking for certain (anonymous) tips about the church’s use of its money, though implicit in the way he frames the question is that yes, it should. In short, his argument the the church should lose its tax exemption seems to follow these contours:

  • The church has, and earns, lots of money.
  • The church engages in for-profit businesses and investments with that money, and doesn’t pay taxes on its for-profit earnings.
  • The church uses tax-deductible tithing money for lobbying, in contravention of the tax law.

He wants to collect information to ultimately file “the biggest, loudest and most comprehensive IRS challenge to a Church’s tax-exempt status in history.” 

Unfortunately, his analysis evinces a significant lack of understanding of the tax exemption and of IRS procedure in general. As Andrew S (who brought Karger’s post to my attention) charitably explains what might have gone wrong with Karger’s analysis, “non-specialists often get details of a field very, very wrong.”

As a specialist, though, I feel some obligation to respond to his errors.[fn1]

The Church Has a Lot of Money. Also a Lot of Revenue

That’s almost certainly correct.[fn2]

But so what? I mean, sure, I get that in the popular imagination, do-gooding nonprofits aren’t multi-billion-dollar organizations. But that imagination has nothing to do with the actual world we live in. Some numbers:

  • Yale’s endowment is in the $25.4 billion range. It expects net revenues of $3.5 billion in fiscal year 2017.
  • In 2015, the American Red Cross had net assets of $1.6 billion, and net revenue of $2.7 billion.
  • In 2015, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had assets of $40.4 billion. It looks like it only had revenue of $6.7 million, though.

What am I saying, then? Just this: while Karger is almost certainly right that the church has a lot of assets (though I have no idea if it’s his asserted $1 trillion), just like for other tax-exempt organizations, the value of its assets has no relevance to its tax-exempt status.[fn3]

The Church Engages in For-Profit Business and Doesn’t Pay Taxes

Andrew has already addressed this assertion, thoroughly and in great detail. I don’t have a lot to add, so if you haven’t read his excellent post yet, I’d recommend it.

A tl;dr version (but I don’t do justice to it, so seriously, read his) is this: the church has put its for-profit businesses into separate corporations. Those corporations pay taxes. They may well dividend some of their after-tax earnings and profits to the church, and the church doesn’t pay taxes on those dividends, because that’s what tax exemption is. Also, to the extent the church engages in business directly, it should (and almost certainly does) pay the unrelated business income tax, a tax imposed on tax-exempt organizations that engage in business.

Even leaving those details aside, the church does pay taxes. I know, both from my own practice experience and from received knowledge in the tax community, that the IRS takes employer withholding taxes very seriously. And where an employer doesn’t pay those, the IRS both notices and acts. So the assertion that the church doesn’t pay any taxes, unless he has evidence that the church shirks its employee withholding responsibilities (and it doesn’t) is completely unfounded.

But also, as Andrew explained, one of the consequences of tax exemption is that tax-exempt organizations don’t pay taxes on passive income. And it’s passive income to the tax-exempt organization if it’s earned in a taxable subsidiary.

It’s also worth noting that, even if the church were a taxable entity, it would almost certainly not owe taxes on tithes and offerings it received; those would almost certainly qualify as gifts, and gifts are not taxable income (so you don’t have to pay taxes on your bounty from Santa!).

The Church Spends Money Lobbying and Otherwise Influencing Legislation

Yep. And, like the first point, so what?

Okay, maybe a little more explanation: section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code contains two limitations on the ability of tax-exempt organizations to participate in politics. The first is an absolute prohibition on endorsing or opposing candidates for office.[fn4]

The second is a limitation on tax-exempt organizations’ ability to lobby and otherwise engage in political behavior. The language here is kind of vague and ambiguous; an organization doesn’t qualify as tax-exempt unless

no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation …

What does “no substantial part” mean? There’s no bright line, though courts have laid out some contours. One court held that where less than 5% of a tax-exempt organization’s activities were influencing legislation, it did not violate the no-substantial-part rule. Another court held that an organization between 16 and 20% of its annual expenditures to influencing legislation failed the test.

What does that mean for the Mormon church? Karger points out that the church spent $200,000 on fighting for Proposition 8. To clearly violate the no-substantial-part rule, that would mean that the church’s total expenditures for the year would have to have been less than $1.25 million. I mean, it fits comfortably in the less-than-5% safe harbor as long as it spent $4 million. Is it possible that the church only spent $1.25 million in 2008? I mean, yes, it’s possible.

But tremendously unlikely.

And what about the fact that the money it spends is tithing money that may have been deducted? For tax purposes, it’s totally irrelevant.

The Biggest, Best IRS Challenge Ever

Finally, Karger wants to collect information so that he can file an IRS complaint.

The thing is, there’s actually no such thing as an IRS complaint. I mean, you can complain about the IRS. Lot’s of people do. And you can probably complain to the IRS. But you can’t make the IRS do anything.

Why not? There’s something called the Tax Anti-Injunction Act. Basically, it says that you can’t sue the government about taxes unless you actually paid the taxes or the taxes were assessed against you (depending on whether you sue in district court or the Tax Court, respectively). Because Karger isn’t trying to challenge taxes that he pays, he lacks standing to sue.

Of course, that doesn’t preclude him from writing a letter. But I’m curious what he expects the letter to do. Let’s assume that he discovers some tax violation or fraud. What’s the IRS going to do about it?

Probably nothing. Look, auditing a church is a tough thing to do—Congress has enacted a whole bunch of hoops before the IRS can audit a church, and then significant limitations on how the audit can function after it starts.

And, after the Tea Party exemption debacle, the IRS is, in my understanding, gun-shy to go after tax-exempt organizations. Also, the IRS is underfunded and understaffed. And even if it ends up assessing tax, there’s unlikely to be a lot of additional federal revenue. Like I said, the vast majority of the church’s revenue is donations that wouldn’t be taxable anyway. Its business income is mostly in entities that already pay taxes.

What you’re left with, mostly, then, is investment income. But once the church is taxable, it can also take deductions, including for salaries and other costs of running the church and, presumably, depreciation on its extensive real property holdings, etc. In the end, the net benefit to the government is minimal, and weighing that against the pushback—both from Congress and the public—for going after a church, plus the cost of jumping through the hoops of actually doing a church audit make it unlikely that even a sternly-worded letter would cause the IRS to act.

An Apologist for the Tax Law

Why do I write this? Mostly because I love the tax law, and I hate to see it abused and weaponized. Like Andrew said, it’s clearly possible that the church isn’t fully compliant with the tax law. But I’ve not seen anything to suggest that it isn’t, other than Karger’s unsubstantiated assertions, pretty much all of which misunderstand the law as it is.


[fn1] Before I get started, though, one disclosure: to titular question of Karger’s post, I would answer with a qualified no. It’s totally outside the scope of this post, but my coauthor and I are currently working on an article where we address fundamental questions of tax exemption. It’s still in the early stages, but I’m sure we’ll post it somewhere when we have a draft written. Based on that analysis, though, I argue that, as a normative matter, nonprofits, including churches, should be exempt from taxes. (It’s qualified, though, because, as I’ll explain in a minute, tax-exempt organizations do pay some taxes.)

[fn2]And yes, I know that the church isn’t terribly transparent financially. In fact, I’ve written fairly extensively about 20th-century Mormon financial disclosure.

[fn3] Note that I’m going to mostly avoid addressing some of the really low-hanging fruit. For example, I sincerely doubt that church earns money from its law firm holdings, because the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit non-attorneys from owning law firms. I don’t teach Professional Responsibility (and it’s already taking plenty of time to write this without doing additional research into a tangential topic), so it’s possible that some states haven’t enacted this particular rule. But all of the states I’m familiar with have.

[fn4] Though for being an “absolute prohibition,” it’s pretty under-enforced, especially with respect to churches, but also non-church tax-exempt organizations.

Comments

  1. I was so happy to see that headline, because I knew it meant a new potential Sam Brunson post. Thanks for obliging, Sam :)

  2. Thanks, Olea, glad to oblige!

  3. John Mansfield says:

    When I saw headlines about this proposed challenge, I thought, “It’s Fred Karger, isn’t it?” Every four years he does something that gets enough coverage for me to remember his name and style. I’m reminded of about twenty years ago when URLs were coveted, and some guy had bought peta.org and used it for his website, People Eating Tasty Animals. He didn’t seem to really care about the better-known PETA one way or the other, other than as an available target to have some fun mocking. One entry on his FAQ page was, “You must be a terribly twisted person to put so much effort into making people unhappy.” The answer was, “Websites are pretty easy to create. It’s amazing how little effort it takes to make some people unhappy.” So, two cheers for Fred Karger, a man who lets his anti-Mormon hobby enhance his life without ruling it. Does it make John Dehlin, with his 10-hour podcasts, a bit jealous that it takes Mr. Karger so little effort to generate a few headlines every few years?

  4. There is a worthwhile discussion to be had about tax exempt status for churches and the ethics of political action by religious institutions. Unfortunately Fred Karger is not the man to begin that discussion. Fred Karger is an idiot who fails to attribute his sources and misrepresents the facts.

    Thanks for the enlightening post.

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    Sam, how do we know anything you’ve said here is really true? How do we know you’re not a brainwashed pawn of the City Creek Cult, obfuscating hard truths so we don’t figure out how SLC is plotting to enslave all of us in its polygamous clutches? I just don’t know what to believe anymore.

    Aaron B

  6. I am sure that with a Trump administration and a GOP-controlled Congress Sam’s arguments will prevail. It is by no means certain that those same arguments will always prevail.

    .”..the solicitor general of the United States acknowledged that religious institutions that oppose as a matter of internal policy same-sex marriage may lose their tax exemptions. At oral argument in the Obergefell same-sex marriage case, there was the following colloquy:

    Justice Samuel Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. 
    So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­ sex marriage?

    Soliticitor General Verrilli: You know, I ­, I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that.  I don’t deny that, Justice Alito.  It is ­­it is going to be an issue.”

    See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/12/07/the-supreme-court-oral-argument-that-cost-democrats-the-presidency/?utm_term=.f9c2ee5cf133

    Consider Rod Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility…an epistemological construct governing the paradoxical way overclass opinion makers frame the discourse about the clash between religious liberty and gay civil rights. It is best summed up by the phrase, “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.”

    See http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-law-of-merited-impossibility/

  7. That’s an argument about a college, Leo, not a religion, so you’re bringing an entirely different (although related) consideration into the discussion. You can be as sure as you want that the Trump administration will do this-that-or-the-other (although it beats me how you can be sure about anything Trump might do), but you’re not even talking about the same thing as Sam.

  8. Leo, like Anon said, the question was specifically with relation to religious schools, which is a different question.

    And, fwiw, the SG’s colloquy has no precedential value or legal relevance. It’s less even than dicta in majority opinions. SGs tend to be very smart and very good litigators, but there’s no reason they would have any particular knowledge about the rules surrounding tax-exempt organizations, especially where the case they’re arguing has nothing to do with tax-exempt organizations.

  9. Oh, and Aaron, I’ve been wearing my tin foil tie to church, so I think I escaped the Corporate Mind Control.

  10. unless you wear your tie on your head, you’ve one prevented them from snatching your body…

    I actually want to bounce off something Marian said. Even if there may be a good case for discussing tax exempt status for churches and the ethics of political action by religious institutions, not only is Fred Karger not the best person to conduct this, but his methods aren’t really good for having that discussion. This discussion would require us to know the intention of the law as it currently stands, and then for us to decide collectively (or get Congress to decide on our behalf) that we have different intentions, and thus, the law should change. That’s very doubtful to happen, but that’s really what would need to happen.

    I have seen a lot of comments online regarding taxes and churches, and what has struck me is that many of the comments are not merely ignorant about the way tax law currently works — but they view the status quo as irrelevant because what they really want is a sweeping change to the tax law anyway. So, they’ll establish these sweeping changes that “should” happen as if those things could be implemented today (e.g., “churches should be forced to be financially transparent to get tax exemption”)

  11. Applause . . . but I would have stopped with “Stupid.”
    I don’t think there’s any real point to a discussion about the Mormon church and U.S. Federal income tax exemption. The topic’s not even interesting. Yes, in a theoretical/academic/historical sense (I will read your article when it comes out, Sam, and I’m sure I will enjoy it). But not in any practical sense. I don’t see any political will anywhere in the U.S. to take up the general issue of churches and tax-exemption. It’s just not happening. Furthermore, based on ‘talk on the street’ for the most part, and actual knowledge for a small number of specifics, the modern Mormon church is on the side of the angels, in the spectrum of institutional churches in the U.S.
    That’s not to say there aren’t interesting issues and discussion. They’re just not about the basic tax-exempt status. The topics that might be interesting (and you, Sam, have addressed some of them already) include:
    1. The boundaries of the political candidate, legislation, and grass roots rules. Current and controversial.
    2. Should churches and schools be subject to the same rules? To the extent there are differences, in which category does a church-owned school belong? A hot topic especially within freedom of religion discussions.
    3. The tax treatment of members, especially the deduction or economic equivalent for tithing and other contributions. Pretty well settled under existing law in the U.S. including the funding of missions. But subject to change. Interesting issues continue in other countries, especially where the tax rate is high, and where the tax system is used to funnel money to churches or to a state church.
    4. The boundaries of the UBTI rules. Technical but involves a lot of dollars, and my sense is that the U.S. rules need fixing.
    5. Property taxes. Churches tend to own large buildings and valuable land, and place demands on local services that are (typically) funded by property taxes. Should churches be in or out of the system?

  12. Has Trump taught us nothing? While I’m impressed with this egghead analysis of the current tax laws, the real issue is that many people don’t like the current policy that grants churches a special tax exemption. So what if you can’t file a complaint with the IRS? Parsing tax procedure is not going to stop powerful lobbying groups from working with Congress to pass laws that require transparency or the abolition of the tax exemption. It’s not a right protected by the constitution. Responding to Karger by pointing out his ignorance about current tax law is like George Stepanopoulous guffawing on This Week in July 2016 at the thought of Trump being nominated as the GOP presidential candidate. All bets are off, professor.

  13. No offense, most recent Anon, but that’s stupid. There is no powerful lobby working to get rid of the tax exemption for churches. And Congress tried to require disclosure by religious orgs in the 60s. It was a nonstarter then, and I see no indication it has changed.

    Sure, you can argue that Trump changed everything, but that’s (a) a specious and useless argument, and (b) ignores the fact that the only thing he’s said about the taxation of tax-exempts is that he wants to get rid of the prohibition on their endorsing candidates.

    So yes, you can assert that everything is different now, but using that argument requires you to ignore both history and current events.

    Also, fwiw, the standing issue I wrote of is both statutory and constitutional.

    And they say academics are out of touch with the real world.

  14. I think Anon said “Trump changes everything” not to mean “Trump and his supporters have some will to change this situation”, but “Trump changes everything” as in “All bets about the will of the people are off. Virtually no one thought Trump would win, but he did.

  15. That’s right, Suzy. Fred Karger may well be unsuccessful with his approach, but tax exemptions are not a protected constitutional right. Congress doesn’t need standing to require religious organizations to disclose their financials and to pay their taxes. You may think this is an unlikely scenario, but so is a President Trump.

  16. Three things, Anon. First, it’s not clear that a Trump presidency was unlikely. 538 put it at ~30%. Second, there’s not even a correlation between a Trump presidency and the tax exemption. That is, no matter how unlikely it was, it doesn’t tell us anything about tax exemption. And third, saying that the ground has fallen out from under our feet is analytically worthless. If history and policy are no guide to what is likely to happen, you can’t say that loss of exemption has become more likely. The most you can say is it’s differently likely. But once your whole argument is that the rules are out of the window, all you have is groundless speculation.

    And you’re right that there’s (probably) no constitutional right to exemption. But it may be constitutionally infirm to take an exemption away from only churches.

  17. A neutral law with general applicability to all non profits requiring financial disclosure and the payment of taxes would probably pass constitutional muster. And for what it’s worth, president trump doesn’t particularly value charitable giving and would probably support taxes on non profits instead of on for profits if push came to shove. Most people would agree that the tax code shouldn’t be subsidizing organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church, and it’s not so far fetched that if enough of these people started a public dialogue about it that this tax policy could change.

  18. Anon, sure, disclosure would likely pass the constitutional muster. But I’m not clear why you think a president Trump values financial transparency. Even if he did, though, I can’t imagine a Republican House and Senate expending the political capital such a change would require. And make no mistake: it would require massive amounts of political capital. Enough that the Congress of the 1960s couldn’t do it. Unless you think there’s a substantive reason why the politics of taxing religious organizations has fundamentally changed. And “We elected Trump so everything is different now” doesn’t strike me as even pretending to approach evidence of that.

    You may not buy my analysis, and I’m happy to engage your argumentation. But if you’re going to deny the value of legal analysis and history in favor of untethered speculation, I really don’t know what more I can add.

  19. No, I don’t think that the politics has changed as of December 17, 2016, but there’s more than untethered speculation undergirding the proposition that the politics supporting the status quo will change in favor of financial disclosure. Demographics are changing so that fewer and fewer people attend or are affiliated with churches. The revelations of clergy abuse and the unpopular political advocacy of churches like the WBC and the LDS church during Prop 8 have undermined the status of religious organizations in the US. Many other countries require financial disclosure from their churches. I don’t think it would take too much for congress to decide to take a similar approach. Especially if the financial disclosure legislation did not include the payment of taxes.

  20. Thanks Anon. I certainly agree that changing religious demographics will have some influence, but there are two (three, actually, but I’m going to leave inertia aside for these purposes) reasons I don’t think changing demographics will effect any significant change here. (And note that, as a normative matter, I agree that there’s no reason why churches shouldn’t have to file Form 990 when other tax-exempt orgs do; I’m not trying to argue what should happen, but what will.)

    The first reason is that the exemption has concentrated benefits with diffuse costs. Sure, about 23% of Americans don’t identify with any religion. But I suspect that the vast majority of those aren’t opposed to religion, at least not strongly enough to fight for disclosure. But there is a definable group that benefits from the lack of disclosure requirements: churches themselves. They have an incentive (be it that they like opaqueness or they believe their religious freedom exempts them from generally-applicable laws or they don’t want to incur the expense of filling out Form 990) to fight such a change. It’s really, really hard (though not impossible) to change things that have a concentrated benefit and diffuse cost, and I don’t see why this would be any different.

    The second is that I think you underestimate the constitutional difficulty of making the change. Sure, the lack of filing a Form 990 isn’t constitutionally mandated. And certainly, if we were starting from scratch, the government could (almost definitely—there is a sliver of doubt, though) require churches to file an information return akin to the 990. The problem is, though, that the change wouldn’t be religiously neutral: it would affect churches and their auxiliaries and nobody else.

    And yes, that puts churches in the same situation as everybody else. But the Supreme Court tends to be wary of laws—even laws of general applicability—that, it turns out, were aimed purely at religion, or at religious practice. It’s not a slam dunk that the change wouldn’t be upheld, but it’s also not a slam dunk that it would.

  21. Also, Anon, to reiterate Andrew’s comment: even assuming we want these changes, Karger (or at least his current approach) is a poor vessel. The changes you read him as wanting are, by and large, legislative changes, and even the most comprehensive letter to the IRS does nothing to move the legislative needle. And I don’t get the impression he knows that. Which would be fin (as Andrew points out, he’s not a specialist in this area) except that, if he wants to effect his goals through the tax law, it seems like it would have behooved him to speak to someone with that specialized knowledge.

  22. Thanks for your response just now. I think it’s much more honest and authentic than calling someone/someone’s politics stupid (which is one mistake the Trump naysayers also made). There are competing values at stake here, and Mr. Karger’s intentions- along with the 650,000 people who signed a White House petition to revoke the WBC’s tax exemption – should be taken seriously- even if their tactics are ham fisted. We don’t know the political landscape ahead of us, even though inertia and the results of traditional rent seeking behavior indicate that churches will continue to avoid financial transparency until they can’t.

  23. If we look at what sorts of laws affecting religion are gaining traction statewide and nationally, then we can actually look outside of taxation into the various religious freedom restoration acts at various states — but when we do this analysis, that really doesn’t support placing greater demands on religion. RFRAs are all about giving religions more exclusions from other laws (such as anti-discrimination laws). The 23% of Americans who are nonreligious have so far been utterly unable to defeat these types of laws from expanding the meaning of religious organization exemptions to a variety of different scenarios, and the courts also do not seem to consistently challenge those expansions.

  24. I’m not disagreeing that this seems to be the status quo. The normative question is more interesting to me however – which this post glosses over. More importantly, you can do better than contributing to the name calling and disagreeable behavior that is part and parcel of political discussions especially lately. In case you missed it, Mr Karger’s point is that religious institutions should be required to follow the same disclosure and tax requirements that other non profits comply with – especially given the lobbying-lite that churches engage in. If you’re Mr. Larger or anyone who deeply cares about civil rights for the LGBT community, the LDS church’s participation in Prop 8 was unchristian and the mark of a PAC instead of a church – regardless of how carefully the good lawyers at K&M sliced and diced the regs to comply with the letter of the law.

    You’ve done a great job calling someone stupid without engaging in the real issues here. No matter what the tax code says today, it can change if enough people want it to change. The smug intelligentsia have been wrong to dismiss issues that were obviously stupid to everyone they knew. Unfortunately stupid things happen with great frequency- although I’ll give you the likelihood of required financial disclosure for churches isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

  25. The reason that posts like these address positive questions rather than normative ones is because Karger suggests wrongdoings in the current system. He suggests making a complaint to the current system regulators. His post does not have anything that would suggest he is aware that the system would have to change greatly for his complaint to go anywhere.

    So what posts like these do is help provide constructive feedback so that activists can refocus their efforts. If Karger wants more financial transparency, then that’s fine. But he needs to do something much different than what MormonTips is set to do.

  26. If Pres. Obama’s administration has taught us anything it’s that a deficient congress and over reaching President can do virtually anything short of gas chambers.

    Treaties where laws put in place previously can be ignored and new treaties declared as an act of policy without the Senate. Massive laws and programs can be adopted via budget reconciliation with the details filled in years later. Penalties get rewritten as taxes when those who designed then forgot about the constitution. The edicts of those laws can be ignored, extended, delayed, waived for the connected and so on. Corporate bankruptcy laws rewritten by fiat and ignored and bizarre consumer sales promotions initiated by the White House. Immigration laws ignored. Constitutional amendments assumed away. Mutually agreed upon salary compensation declared unjust and out of compliance.

    Trump didn’t build that. Obama did. All Trump revealed is that the emperor really has no clothes and nearly half of the nation is so fed up pretending he does.

    So if you think tax policy can’t be treated with the same creativity you’re not living in the post modern world. An executive order, IRS edict, EPA regulation dealing with land use or building construction, etc just needs to get spun the right way and voila. Maybe it gets overturned in 5-10 years through the courts, maybe by then the people move on and it is what it is and you should just “pay your fair share.”

    This is the problem of unprincipled government that has been weaponized against the citizenry. If Hillary was elected it would have surely come to pass as part of that further weaponization. With Trump, if it happens it would only be the trade in some deal to all accomplish his agenda.

  27. Tmia, I’m not sure how to respond to you. Your assertion seems to be that everything has fundamentally changed, so past doesn’t help us understand either the present or the future.

    As I’ve said ad nauseum, let’s assume that’s true: let’s assume we’re in a world that’s entirely disconnected from anything rational or anything that has come before. At that point, why fear or hope for anything? There is absolutely no reason that in such an untethered world the treatment of religion becomes worse; as Andrew pointed out, state RFRAs suggest just the opposite. But if you’re really convinced that history and policy are no guide, I don’t see any reason to credit your assertions about what will (might) happen.

  28. Tmia’s comment reflects a bizarre misunderstanding that has arisen among many zealous Republicans. It is not true that Barack Obama somehow connived to create the vast power of the presidency. The power of the executive branch in the American system has been expanding ever since the republic was established. Every single president—Democrat, Republican, Federalist, or Whig—has tried to extend the power of the presidency. (George Washington might be the only exception.) There is nothing unique in what Obama has done or what Hillary Clinton might have done had she been elected.

    The problems that trouble Tmia do not arise from any single person’s actions; they are endemic to the task of governance in our system. When problems are systemic, it is foolish to think we will be saved if we elect the one right person. It is just as foolish to think that we can solve the problems by destroying the system.

    Tmia would do better not to panic. It is panic to argue that anything can happen, and therefore the worst possible thing surely will. Instead, we should learn history. Learn why things are the way they are now. That knowledge can show us possible paths forward—constructive paths. When we panic, as Tmia has, we only play into the hands of those who would use our fear for their own gain, and we are likely to lose many things that we cherish.

  29. Bruce Spencer says:

    Should the church have tax exempt status… yes. Should the church open up it’s books… absolutely.

  30. Bruce, those are both contestable (and contested) points. I agree with your first, though it’s going to take 20,000 words over the next month or so for me to lay out exactly why. And as for your second, I’m interested in broader tax transparency, not just from churches, but from businesses and even from individual taxpayers. But that’s a deeply controversial position, and one that I may spend another 20,000 words sometime in the future trying to establish.

  31. thanks for this post — I love your tax stuff.

    And I loved this: “I’ve not seen anything to suggest that it isn’t, other than Karger’s unsubstantiated assertions, pretty much all of which misunderstand the law as it is”.