June 16, 1999

Facing tax troubles,
Christian Coalition regroups

___WASHINGTON (RNS)--Abandoning its decade-long attempt to gain tax-exempt status, the Christian Coalition June 10 recast itself as a partisan political entity that will openly fund and endorse candidates.
___Along with a host of recent staff shuffles and a reported growing financial deficit, those developments could portend a significant change in the status and influence of what has been the Religious Right's marquee political organization.
___ The Chesapeake, Va.-based organization said it has changed its name to Christian Coalition International and will seek to organize chapters overseas "in response to dozens of requests."
___ Meanwhile, the organization's Texas affiliate--which has the tax-exempt status that the national office had unsuccessfully sought--has been renamed Christian Coalition of America.
___Chuck Anderson, the Texas Christian Coalition executive director, said Christian Coalition of America will operate out of the Virginia office, despite its Texas charter. A new Texas affiliate will be organized, he added.
___"Christian Coalition International will operate in the same fashion as any traditional business corporation," said a statement issued by the Chesapeake office. "It will have the freedom to endorse candidates on a state and local level, make financial contributions to candidates or engage in such other activities as are permissible to all businesses."
___Christian Coalition International will form a political action committee that will allow it to funnel money to candidates.
___Molly Clatworthy, a national coalition spokeswoman, said Christian Coalition of America will function much as the old Christian Coalition operated. Clatworthy said that will include distribution of the group's controversial voter guides that list candidates' positions on issues of coalition concern.
___The guides reportedly figured prominently in the Internal Revenue Service's reasoning for not granting the coalition tax-exempt status. The IRS, as is customary in such cases, declined to comment on the ruling.
___However, the St. Petersburg Times reported June 10 that two former senior officials at the coalition had seen a letter of denial from the IRS and confirmed that the confidential ruling was delivered earlier this spring.
___The organization, founded by Pat Robertson, has been accused of opposing and supporting candidates for office through its voter guides. The Internal Revenue Code forbids tax-exempt groups from supporting or opposing candidates for public office.
___The coalition maintains the guides are non-partisan and educational and notes that no church has ever had its tax-exempt status lifted for distributing them.
___Since the 1997 departure of former executive director Ralph Reed, whose boyish good looks and media acuity brought the organization to the peak of its influence, the coalition has struggled to maintain itself.
___ Donations have dropped, and key officials have come and gone. Only a handful of state affiliates are said to remain strong, although Clatworthy said the coalition still has 2.1 million "members and supporters," about as many as it has ever claimed.


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