Oct. 23, 2006 – The Kansas attorney generalâ€™s efforts to promote himself to churchgoers has raised allegations that his reelection campaign is unethically mixing issues of church and state.
State prosecutor Phill Kline is known for talking openly about his faith and drawing on churches as a support base. Last month, news outlets publicized an internal memo indicating that local church networks were a key element in his strategy for cultivating political donations.
The Washington, DC-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint on Wednesday with the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether Klineâ€™s campaigning had led to violations of laws restricting political activity by churches.
Federal laws restrict tax-exempt churches from engaging in electioneering. Though churches can generally help mobilize voters and take stances on political issues, to maintain tax-exempt status, they are not supposed to act in favor of a specific candidate.
Klineâ€™s memo to campaign staff calls for the distribution of promotional literature to churchgoers and for screening campaign videos at churches. Kline wrote that church personnel need not offer a similar opportunity to the opposing candidate, as long as an opposing video presentation is not barred outright.
IRS law mandates "equal opportunity" to opposing candidates at church-sponsored public forums. CREW argued that Klineâ€™s "misinformation" may have pushed churches to violate the law.
Klineâ€™s memo also focuses on nearby fundraising receptions that follow speaking engagements at churches. To "maximize attendance" and "turn out voters," he wrote, the pastor should be asked "to invite 5 â€˜money peopleâ€™" to the reception. The memo recommends coaching reception hosts on "how to ask for money and volunteer support," and states that the "goal is to walk away with contact information, money, and volunteers and a committee in each church."
Kline has publicly insisted that he has maintained legal separation between his electioneering and his church engagements, at which he talks about his personal experiences as a Christian. Questioned about the memo by the Lawrence Journal-World, Klineâ€™s campaign spokesperson Sherriene Jones confirmed its authenticity but said, "There isnâ€™t anything wrong with a candidate turning to his supporters."
On September 18, the Associated Press reported on a Topeka, Kansas church event where Kleinâ€™s campaign invited dozens of guests to a political reception held afterward. Reverend Barry Lynn, head of the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, commented, "When you use a church event to lure people to a political event, frankly that does cross the line."