The Federal Election Commission voted (4-2) yesterday to exempt religious and charitable groups from provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that prohibit the use of “soft money” to finance radio and television ads. In a decision that goes against the intent of campaign finance reformers, three Republicans and one Democrat voted to allow all nonprofit groups that qualify for tax-exempt status, including religious and church organizations such as the Christian Coalition, to fund “issue advertisements” or “thinly veiled attacks on candidates.” Earlier this month, the Christian Coalition – one of the first groups to challenge nation’s new campaign finance law – withdrew its lawsuit against the McCain-Feingold bill to “focus on the fall elections and its legislative priorities,” according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, a House committee began discussion last week on legislation that would provide even greater electioneering loopholes for religious groups. Republican leaders have championed the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-NC), that would allow churches to play a larger role in the political process and give the religious right new ammunition in their ongoing battle against reproductive rights. Currently, churches, synagogues, mosques and other non-profit religious organizations must refrain from directly supporting or opposing political candidates in order to retain their tax-exempt status. However, House Republican leaders intend to pass legislation this year that would allow the religious community to endorse and spend money on federal candidates as long as this spending does not comprise the bulk of the group’s activities.