Civic Process Specialists: Some Thoughts

A couple weeks ago, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the church told Utah stake presidents to start calling “specialists who can assist church members to better understand and participate in the civic process.” Over the weekend, I listened to Ep. 82 of the Trib‘s “Mormon Land” podcast, which discussed this calling with the Hinckley Institute’s Morgan Lyon Cotti. That discussion was an excellent and substantive discussion of why the church might be interested in doing this, and the benefits of additional civic engagement.

At this point, it’s not clear precisely what being a civic process specialist will entail, though, among other things, they might help people figure out how to register to vote, figure out how, when, and where to vote, and, apparently, given them some guidance with Utah’s caucus system. The church has been clear that it will continue to be neutral with respect to candidates and parties. Still, there are people who worry that the specialists will be less nonpartisan than the church. Which brings up the question: can the church do this, or is it going to lose its tax exemption?

Spoiler alert: it’s not going to lose its exemption. [Read more…]

Explainer: Tax-Exempt Salt Lake Tribune

Yesterday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Salt Lake Tribune has been in serious discussions about becoming a tax-exempt newspaper.[fn1]

This is kind of a big deal. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first tax-exempt newsroom, of course. NPR, for example, has been delivering news as a tax-exempt organization since 1971. And it’s not even the first newspaper (-like organization): ProPublica, a tax-exempt investigative newsroom, has been tax-exempt for more than a decade, and Voice of San Diego, which does the same type of investigative journalism in the San Diego region, has been exempt since 2005.[fn2] WNYC’s On the Media was talking about the potential of newspapers become tax-exempt around that same time, too.[fn3]

But if this happens, the Trib would become the first legacy newspaper to switch from a for-profit model to a tax-exempt, not-for-profit model. Which raises at least two significant questions: why and how. So let’s do an Explainer! [Read more…]

The Church Is Going to Pay More In Taxes

In 1972, the church opened its new Church Office Building at 50 East North Temple Street. The 28-story building, built by Christiansen and Clyde Construction Company for $31.3 million, allowed scattered church employees to all work under one roof. Initially, about 1,500 employees, who had been at 16 different locations, moved into the building. It was originally slated to provide office space to over 2,000 employees. And so that those employees could make it, the Church Office Building had 1,250-spot underground parking garage.

And the existence of that 1,250-spot underground parking garage means that the church owes federal income taxes for 2018.

Because yes, the church owes taxes for last year. And, perhaps to church members’ surprise, those taxes aren’t the result of secular liberals who hate Mormons/religion/God. Those taxes are the result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the GOP’s late-2017 tax reform that was both conceived of and passed without any input or votes from Democrats.  [Read more…]

The Loveloud Foundation

According to my Facebook feed, Saturday was the Loveloud Festival in Salt Lake. Now in its second year, Loveloud is meant to provide love and acceptance for LGBTQ+ kids. If you’ve followed my #MutualNight posts, you can probably guess that, even if I lived in Utah, I wouldn’t have gone. I’m 100% behind the festival’s message and its goals, but I’m not a big fan of its music.

I am, however, a big fan of charitable organizations. And guess what? The sponsoring organization of the festival is the Loveloud Foundation, a tax-exempt public charity.[fn1]

Now I don’t know a lot of details about the Loveloud Foundation; it received its tax exemption last year, and hasn’t filed a Form 990 yet. (Next year it will file the form, which is a public document.) But there are a couple broad things that we know about it just by virtue of its being tax-exempt. So let’s have a Q&A explainer! [Read more…]

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.”  [Read more…]

LDS Inc.

mormons incSo the first thing to do is admit that I don’t always get internet-speak. That said, is there any way that “LDS Inc.,” written in implicit (or explicit) disparagement of the church isn’t stupid?[fn]

I mean, I see it occasionally. And I kind of assume that its provenance is the Aug. 4, 1997, Time magazine cover.

The thing is that while contextually, the use of “LDS Inc.” is clearly meant as a criticism, I can’t figure out what is being critiqued. Saying “LDS Inc.” may make a (vaguely) factual assertion, but it makes no substantive moral or ethical assertion.  [Read more…]

Mormonism in the Internal Revenue Code

taxWhenever possible on April 15, I like to put together a quick post about some Mormon-related trivia from the tax world. This year’s edition: church financial disclosure.

In brief: tax-exempt organizations by definition don’t pay taxes. Prior to 1943, they also didn’t file any tax returns—they were pretty much entirely outside of the tax regime. That changed with the Revenue Act of 1943, which required tax-exempt organizations to file annual information returns. Broadly speaking, those returns lay out the sources of the organization’s income and where it spends that money.[fn1]

The return-filing requirement continues today, in largely (though not entirely) the same form. And, in marked contrast with most tax returns, the law requires tax-exempt organizations’ returns to be made available for public inspection. (If you want to inspect some, sign up for a free account here and have at it.)  [Read more…]

Does Open Stories Foundation Qualify As Tax-Exempt?

Last week, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote an article about John Delhin’s finances. A couple things leaped out at me, particularly salient, perhaps, because of research I’ve been doing recently, and because they raise difficult-to-see red flags, both for the Open Stories Foundation (“OSF”) and for other Mormons (or, more generally, Americans) who want to start a tax-exempt organization.[fn1]

Tl;dr: OSF looks like it is violating the prohibition against private inurement, which would compromise its tax-exempt status; it should at the very least get a tax practitioner with experience in the tax-exempt area to look closely. Also, anybody who wants to operate a tax-exempt entity needs to get competent legal advice upfront: the tax-exempt area is a minefield of compliance traps. [Read more…]

Merging Religious and Secular News(papers)

deseret_news_private_collecThe Church News is moving. It has just announced that stories from the Church News will be posted on DeseretNews.com, that LDSChurchNews.com will redirect to the DN site, and that eventually the archives will be moved as well.

Which is fine and good, I suppose. Apparently, the Church News was hosted on a platform that couldn’t be supported or upgraded.[fn1] So the consolidation seems to make sense from a technical point of view.  [Read more…]