Congressmen, tax collectors and Jesus

By David Waters If every tax-exempt religious organization received the same scrutiny as Washington’s now famous C Street rowhouse, the … Continued

By David Waters

If every tax-exempt religious organization received the same scrutiny as Washington’s now famous C Street rowhouse, the IRS would have its hands full. But given the evidence available, it’s difficult to see why a boarding house for evangelical Congressmen should be classified as a church — for the purposes of God or Caesar.

Until last fall, the C Street Center paid no property taxes in the District of Columbia because it received an E1, or religious, exemption. After D.C. officials inspected the $1.8 million townhouse near the U.S. Capitol, they declared 66 percent of it to be a taxable residence, not a tax-exempt church. “Portions are being rented to private individuals for residential purposes,” a D.C. official told the Post.

Now the C Street house’s federal tax status is being challenged. Last month, a group of 13 (interesting New Testament number) clergy asked the IRS to investigate. The complaint alleges the center is “an exclusive residential club for powerful officials may be masquerading as a church” and it lists five members of Congress as rent-paying residents.

It’s unclear who actually lives in the house (at least two Congressmen say they have moved outt), who owns it or how much they charge for rent, or what sort of tax-exempt religious activities occur there. But given the house’s clear connection to members of Congress, isn’t it time for time for those questions to be answered?

DC tax records say the 130-year-old brick townhouse at 133 C St. SE was owned by Youth With a Mission D.C. Youth With a Mission, an evangelical Christian organization. But that group told the Post that the property was transferred 20 years ago to C Street Center Inc.

Some say the house is affiliated with Fellowship Foundation, a Virginia-based group that sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast. But foundation officials deny that. “C Street is a completely separate foundation with its own board. It’s separate ownership, and I haven’t been there personally in probably six years,” Richard Carver, president of the Fellowship Foundation, told The Post. “We have no direct connection in any way with their status or what goes on at C Street.”

The house has no affiliation with a particular church or Christian denomination, but residents and others say it does have a religious purpose. Residents have said they share meals and Bible study, and that other politicians come to the house for spirituality sessions, prayer meetings or to simply share their troubles.

Some of those troubles have biblical implications.

Last summer, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said (during his televised confession of an extramarital affair) he had sought spiritual advice there. Later, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he had used the house to counsel fellow resident and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who admitted to an affair with the wife of a former aide. Meanwhile, according to court papers filed by his estranged wife, former resident and Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering Jr., a Mississippi Republican, used the house to entertain his mistress.

I suppose you could argue that some of those activities would qualify as “exempt purposes” set forth in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. According to the tax code, charitable purposes can include “lessening the burdens of government” and “relief of the distressed.”

And, technically, the C Street Center doesn’t have to be a church to qualify for tax exemptions. The IRS distinguishes between “churches” as “places of worship” and “religious organizations” whose “principal purpose is the study or advancement of religion.” Perhaps the men at C Street Center spend a lot of time studying the stories of David and Bathsheba, or Jesus’ admonitions against adultery and divorce.

But even in the unlikely event that the house passes IRS muster for it’s religious or charitable activities, what about its political activities? To qualify for tax exemptions, 501(c)3 organization’s “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” Hard to imagine that a house that serves politicians could pass that test.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” But the gospel doesn’t say anything about Jesus charging rent, or asking for a tax exemption.

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Read more about religion and politics at Patheos.com

About

  • globalone

    “Thought: Has anyone ever computed how much tax money would be taken in if religions were taxed at the same rate as everyone else?”In exchange for the billions of $$ that would be inevitably lost or fumbled away by our inept government leaders, the Red Cross and a hundred other charitable organizations would go bankrupt.Given that scenario, I’d rather keep the status quo.

  • lafayette89

    Another outrage by the rich and powerful (I don’t care what party they belong to), who bend the tax laws to their advantage. Gee, poor honest tax-paying folks like me, who pay our property taxes without fail, and, gee, who study the Bible in our homes with our kids, and who would never think of twisting the law to ask for an exemption: WE’RE JUST SUCKERS, AREN’T WE!!!!!

  • haveaheart

    Interesting that all the men noted in this article are Republicans.What does this tell us?

  • vigor

    The C Street men are Con-artists, plain and simple.We fell for their ruse…Do we have to continue?Mr. Sanford TOLD his wife he had no intention of fidelity.it was OK by her…

  • coloradodog

    As Blasmiac pointed out:”To qualify for tax exemptions, 501(c)3 organization’s ‘may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.’Who else “attempts to influence legislation”? Could it be the Catholic Church that intimidates its legislative members by denying them communion? Who participates in campaign activity? Could it be the Mormon Church that has donated directly to anti-gay politics in Hawaii and Alaska and formed a huge multi-state PAC to promote Proposition 8? Take away tax exempt status for churches and faux “religious organizations. They don’t obey the law and should pay taxes like the rest of working Americans, or at least hire lawyers to find loopholes for not paying any tax like their fellow large corporations.

  • rjack2

    Sounds to me like another Rainbow Coalition.

  • globalone

    “Take away tax exempt status for churches and faux “religious organizations. They don’t obey the law and should pay taxes like the rest of working Americans, or at least hire lawyers to find loopholes for not paying any tax like their fellow large corporations”This is what happens when you respond with emotion rather than thought. Congress reacted the same way when it pushed the credit card legislation through. “We’ll be heroes to the working class” they thought. And the American public agreed.And then came the higher credit card interest rates. Annual fees returned from exile. Rewards were restricted. Credit lines reduced.Doesn’t seem like such a great deal now, does it? That’s what happens when you don’t think before you act.Finally, anyone who thinks that corporations don’t pay tax is living in dreamland.

  • BigTrees

    Take tax exemptions away from all faux-religious groups, especially those “mega-churches” whose leadership lives lavishly ebyond appropriate means. I mean Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, James Dobson, Oral Roberts’ heirs, etc…

  • gibsonpolk

    The problem here is that the bar is set very low for the complaint of “masquerading as a church”. Churches are, by nature, a bit of a masquerade. Just tax them all, to the degree they are engaged in politics, as in this case they clearly are.

  • kidvidkid

    Actually, I think it would be rather fun to organize several thousand people to gather at the house to insist on being allowed in for public worship. :)

  • mtoverman

    Yes. Investigate. Churches are not above the law and should not be given special status. One of their many problems is that they act as if they are above the law. Except for absolutely true christian charity (which most churches do not perform) churches have been harming America since the late 1800s. And they’ve been on overdrive since the 1980s.Investigate them all. Better yet, regulate them. Even better, require that they post disclaimers on all of their literature, including service programs. These disclaimers, like the ones found on non-FDA regulated medicine, out to clearly state that their ideas are subjective and not based in any rigorous scientific method.

  • Hillman1

    The saddest part is they were cheating the local government (the District of Columbia) out of their residential property tax.This organization has untold millions of dollars at it’s disposal.Yet they feel the need to cheat the local government out of property tax?Property tax that pays for fire and police services, for road and sidewalk and infrastructure maintenance, etc.?Is that really what Jesus would do?

  • Cthulhu3

    To qualify for tax exemptions, 501(c)3 organization’s “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”You’d then have to tax every African American Church and Mosque in the country that the Democrats use for politicking.

  • gasmonkey

    Call it what it is. C street center is a tax-dodging place for Republicans to engage in sexual hanky panky while pretending to be pius.

  • globalone

    Coloradodog,Did you notice that TWO of the THREE reasons listed for U.S. corporations not paying taxes are COMPLETELY LEGIT. How much tax would you like a corporation to pay when it’s operating at a taxable LOSS?And how, exactly, do you think corporations generate tax credits? By investing in people (wage credits), property (low income housing projects), and more recently, renewable resources (solar, synfuel, wind, etc).Funny how you’re not complaining about the billions of $$ lost due to tax credits taken by individuals on both their federal and state tax returns. Oh, that’s right. That would negatively affect you, so we won’t go there.

  • johnnydough69

    I have a solution. Retain tax exemptions for true non-profit charitable organizations. Lets treat the rest as for profit retail organizations.Ford sells cars, Pfizer sells drugs, Wal-Mart sells everything, and all are making substantial profits. Churches sell snake oil (another drug), they take your money and never have to deliver the goods. What a sweet deal, profits must be enormous. So…, lets tax them.To globalone, what is so bad about tightening credit, it is long overdue. If you don’t like it don’t use it.

  • jeffc6578

    Of course the IRS should investigate. By all accounts, these guys are crooks who wrap themselves in the flag and thump bibles to deflect criticism of themselves.

  • WashingtonPostReader7

    a. It may come as a surprise to many that the nomenclature of “separation of church and state” is not to be found in the Constitution and the derivative of the term actually is referencing a protection in the opposite direction than the way that most use it. One could argue that the “spirit” of it is in the Constitution which “b” will address below.b. The First Amendment is prohibiting the establishment of a national religion where church and state are united (rightly so). The framers were reacting against England where church and state were united. Consequently, the calling of attention to the First Amendment in this discussion does not appear to fit the context.c. There is no question that there are plenty of local churches that have caused a great deal of harm, this is without question. However, to release tax privileges from the church would relinquish the plethora of helpful community services that are often neglected by the press, etc. consequently the populace at large would see the care for the poor, disaster relief, and benevolence services, to name a few, cease in large part, thus pushing those services to the government, therein likely increasing taxes to the American citizen. In short, while it may sound easy and while it may also be popular to offer the comments above, local churches are often a great solace to one’s community.

  • slenon

    There is no legitimate reason to allow tax-exempt status to the owners of this apartment building. The men who live there believe that their religion and their positions of political power place them above and outside U.S. laws. It is time to strip the tax-exempt status from this pseudo-church and disabuse the occupants and their fellow theocrats of the idea that they should be allowed any special status under tax codes or under any other legal codes. I would imagine that a congressional investigation into their activities would reveal all manner of behavior suitable to launch impeachement proceedings and criminal court proceedings.

  • cmarshdtihqcom

    WashingtonPostReader7, it must also be said that certain churches such as the Mormons also did harm in California taking away the freedom and pursuit of happiness of gay people by organizing people politically.The same forces in California behind Prop 8 probably help California with their good hand, but with their bad hand they have oppressed people at least this once.And they keep their tax exemption too. Sweet.Go ahead and apologize, but the damage is done, for now.

  • jjsheb

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”"Exempt Purposes – Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3): …advancement of religion; …”Sounds like a law “respecting an establishment of religion” to me, and the fact that you have to qualify your church with the IRS makes it doubly so.Churches and charities should be just like everybody else, make a profit, pay a tax.

  • sue-dev

    It seems to me that this would be a direct question about “separating church and state”, are We the People free to rent a room there?These politicians have made more money by approving whatever benefits them. Can WE vote ourselves a pay raise? While at the same time freezing all other benefits to the people. Let’s bring God back into the lives of the people, no matter what religion.God bless our Nation and the troops fighting for us.

  • Rich393

    To qualify for tax exemptions, 501(c)3 organization’s “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”Based on the above, C Street should pay full taxes. The Catholic Church, Mormons, etc., should also pay full taxes unless they cease and desist influencing our political process.Thought: Has anyone ever computed how much tax money would be taken in if religions were taxed at the same rate as everyone else?

  • YEAL9

    Large USA tax exempt/non-profit groups (Some who also do lobbying):

  • YEAL9

    Some questions for the Fellowship Foundation:On the 2006 IRS Forms, did you list the Wilberforce Foundation as a related exempt organization located at the C Street Center?How does that correlate with the following?:But foundation officials deny that. “C Street is a completely separate foundation with its own board. It’s separate ownership, and I haven’t been there personally in probably six years,” Richard Carver, president of the Fellowship Foundation, told The Post. “We have no direct connection in any way with their status or what goes on at C Street.”Wilburforce’s treasurer is David Coe. One of the VP’s is his brother Tim Coe. Both brothers are also associates at the Fellowship Foundation?David’s salary from Wilburforce is $125,000/yr including benefits? Tim Coe’s salary is $116,000?These are the same salaries listed on the Fellowship Foundation’s 2008 IRS 990 Form?Is it correct that the brothers are getting salaries from both organizations i.e. $250,000 and $232,000/yr to include benefits? (double dipping?)A Marty Sherman also works for both organizations and one assumes gets the double salary of approximately $250,000? (more double dipping?)

  • SteveB5

    Can anyone explain why churches have tax exempt status at all? I’m not real sure, but are other non-profits tax-exempt too? I’m not baiting anyone, I just really don’t know.

  • ravensfan20008

    Why stop here? Tax the Catholic Church that attempted to derail the same-sex marriage bill passed by the city council!

  • edallan

    The IRS should also check to see if the Congresspeople living at the C Street House deducted their rent as charitable contributions. Given the massive divergence between their public protestations and their private scumminess, I wouldn’t put it past them.

  • david6

    The C-Street organization is a political organization. It is not a church. We need to change the rules so we stop giving tax subsidies to organizations that claim to be churches, whether they are or not. We need to stop tempting these supposedly religious organizations to lie to our government. Tax breaks for churches certainly appear to be a violation of the First Amendment. Whether that is the case or not, these tax breaks are unjustified. I suppose the outspoken Catholic activists on the Supreme Court like Justice Scalia would want to turn a blind eye to the political activism of the RCC rather than rebuke them for not following the law that limits those who want this tax subsidy. It’s time to end it. I would rather see organizations like the RCC pay taxes and let them honestly try to tell its flock how to vote than have theme engage in their current dishonest subterfuge while claiming that they are not telling their congregations how to vote.

  • david6

    SteveB5-Not-for-profit organizations generally are tax exempt income, sales and property. The level varies by state and the activity of the organization. Affiliated for-profit businesses do pay tax and tax rules make it clear that the not-for-profit cannot commingle their funds without the risk of loss of all tax breaks.

  • lufrank1

    C-Street exempt from Taxes? Madness!

  • blasmaic

    “To qualify for tax exemptions, 501(c)3 organization’s ‘may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.’ Hard to imagine that a house that serves politicians could pass that test.”Author allowed personal prejudice to short-circuit logic. The life of a politician is one of endless rules, regulations and filing requirements for the most silly everyday details. They absolutely could organize the place to conform with the tax code, and do so with the effortlessness of playing a board game.

  • John1263

    Jesus said “render unto Caesar that which is Caesars.” He was actually speaking specifically about paying taxes. Of course we have separation of church and state so we keep the state out of the business of taking money from churches. As noted in many posts, whe the church tries to influence the affairs of state they lose that tax exaempt status. So Mormons, Catholics, and all manner of evangelical denominations should have their exempt status revoked until they stop using their churches to rally for political parties (IE republicons) and use them to preach the message of God as their denominations teach.

  • pjohn2

    And just try to “REPORT OFFENSIVE COMMENT”. The link takes you to the main Post religious page. How about the shady commercial embedded in one comment?

  • rbsher

    If any have fears and concerns about Islam and Muslims, I suggest they do their research concerning THE FAMILY and re-direct these fears and concerns to this group of “tax-exempt Christians.” They are in highly placed elected positions which could result in destroying the complete fundamentals of our Democracy. This group should not only be feared – but while checking out their tax-exempt status, it would be worth while to check out what THE FAMILY’s final goal is. My research tells me their leadership (COE) and members have more up their sleeves than just maintaining their tax-exempt status at “C” Street.

  • chatard

    And so Quinn and Meacham’s “ON Faith” charade continues to be a platform for anti-Christian activists.

  • forestbloggod

    Hopefully the Post is doing a thorough investigation of this front for hypocrites.It looks like fertile grounds for a Pulitzer.

  • seve2yoo

    This is not an anti-Christian tirade. Its an anti-hypocrit tirade. It doesn’t matter what the underlying religion is. Using the “religious organization” sham to secure unwarranted tax benefits is a crime. It is also wrong for religious organizations, of all types, who have exempt status to attempt to influence legislation. You can have exempt status or your political voice, the choice is yours; but you cannot have both. While the political voice is a constitutional right, the exempt status is a mere privilege that is predicated on the waiver of the constitutional right. These exempt organizations want to have their cake and eat it too. That’s not going to happen. Your “whoa is us, poor Christians” defense is without merit.

  • CarolAnne1

    Ten percent of all the IRS collects should be split between Rachel Maddow and Jeff Sharlet!

  • 78vette

    Tax this property! To claim that this is some sort of religious organization is a crock. Tax it and charge interest and penalties for the years it has been a haven for wayward Representatives, Senators and Governors.

  • rha39

    Wonder how many women live at the C Street house?

  • SteveHansen1

    In addition to revoking the tax exemption, they should prosecute the people who benefited from the fraud.I think we can be pretty sure that the politicians who lived there all gave money to the “church”, and took tax deductions for those “contributions”, even though they knew for a fact that the “church” was a fraud, and the “contributions” were really rent.

  • bikes-everywhere

    Of course this is a church. It is the church of I-hate-any-and-every-tax-I-have-ever-been-asked-to-pay-so-I-won’t-and-screw-everybody-else.This is just another taxpayer giveaway to religion. Just like school vouchers for their private, religious schools.

  • Nosh1

    I am amazed that in the year 2010, with all of our property, tax, sale etc records accessible through the stroke of a key, that there is no clear idea as to who owns that place. I am glad they are being investigated. I hope they are fined all the back taxes they owe. Lastly, I think it is ridiculous that all religious organizations don’t have to pay property tax. I mean c’mon…they use the sewer, water, fire/rescue. They use the streets and sidewalks and yet they are exempt. I read something a few years ago the Tax Foundation published and it said that conservatively, the state and local jursdictions in the US lose out on 30-40 billion a year in property tax because of the exemption for religious organizations. Ridiculous. Think of St. Patricks downtown at 10th and G, right in the heart of Chinatown and the commercial district. The office building it shares a property line with next door pays 3 million a year in DC property tax. It adds up, and quickly.

  • rmacleod2

    Surfing the channels this Sunday morning, I stumbled across the Coral Ridge Ministries program. If there is any organization that is abusing it’s tax exemption it is this group. They have demolished the wall between church and state. If you think the tea-bag party have some loose cannons, you should pay attention to what is being aired on this program.

  • topwriter

    The IRS should check into ALL churches. Audit and verify. I’m not saying charge them taxes, but find any wrongful use of funds.

  • nl01

    Reminds me of a similar (but more extreme) case in Amsterdam, in the eighties: a strip club called itself a church and claimed tax exemption. The Dutch equivalent of the IRS sent two tax inspectors to ‘worship’ – the papers printed some excerpts of their report, which were hirarious because of their inimitable style.

  • BarbarainPalmSprings

    Is there any doubt that “C” St is an organization hiding behind religion to gain political power?Prosecute the bastards…Rachel Maddow did everyone a big favor by exposing this bunch of wing nuts who are downright dangerous.

  • rlj1

    Why was this allowed to go on for so long? Will the media do a story on these individuals? Will the Congressmen be up before the Ethics Commission? So many unaswered questions but it is so obvious it is NOT a church.

  • tbjenkins

    First of all, I don’t believe in blanket exemptions for any group. They use the streets, police, fire, water and sewage systems at a minimum. From that perspective, they should be giving unto Caesar what is Caeser’s. No outfit with an exemption should be providing rental housing to anyone without paying income taxes on the revenue, just like any other apartment or hotel operator. If they can be exempt then why shouldn’t the Sheraton or the Shoreham have the same priviledge when renting to ministers and other church officials?Give me a break. As a taxpayer and a Catholic, I’ve been a strong advocate of annual audits and the paying of their fair share of taxes on non collection plate revenues and school tuition. Because of little or no audit policy that most archdioces have its virtuallt impossible to tell how much of their revenue is legitimately exempt and how much is not. An IRS requirement to that effect would make it fairly easy for the IRS and local authoriries determine what is exempt and what is not.

  • jmfromdc

    YES

  • enough3

    Actually, the C Street belief creed stipulates thaat they are a chosen group and above the laws of this nation and all men, and have a dduty and mission to lead, without obeisance to any others (than the Christian God.) So which is it boys of C Street? – loyalty as sworn the day you took elective office to protect and defend the Constitution and the laws of the US, or obeisance to your higher and “special” mission? Me thinks they are not only hypocrites, but radicals and traitorous subversives, working and assembling to undermine everything the rest of us work to uphold and defend. They should be prosecuted and forced to pay back income taxes, plus also forfeit the property because it has defrauded the American government and evaded taxes because it violated the tax laws. Just as would happen to a normal law abiding real American.

  • esch

    This whole matter should be referred to the U.S. Attorney for prosecution. This is criminal tax evasion pure and simple. They are crooks.These tax cheats don’t pay their own way but are the first to complain about municipal services.

  • YEAL9

    Corrected copy:Some questions for the Fellowship Foundation:On the 2006 IRS Forms, did you list the Wilberforce Foundation as a related exempt organization located at the C Street Center?How does that correlate with the following?:But foundation officials deny that. “C Street is a completely separate foundation with its own board. It’s separate ownership, and I haven’t been there personally in probably six years,” Richard Carver, president of the Fellowship Foundation, told The Post. “We have no direct connection in any way with their status or what goes on at C Street.”David’s salary from Wilberforce is $125,000/yr including benefits? Tim Coe’s salary is $116,000?These are the same salaries listed on the Fellowship Foundation’s 2008 IRS 990 Form?Is it correct that the brothers are getting salaries from both organizations i.e. $250,000 and $232,000/yr to include benefits? (double dipping?)A Marty Sherman also works for both organizations and one assumes gets the double salary of approximately $250,000/yr? (more double dipping?)

  • lildg54

    Absolutely should be stripped of tax exempt status as should all churches where preachers or minsiters urge their congregants to vote or support a certain way The right wing nut jobs!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Gatsby10

    The C-Street “church” is not a church. It does not provide any services to the community. (That’s unless one counts counseling John Ensign on the better way to pay off his mistress and his mistress’ family, a la Coburn.). The C-Street house is a cult, with the sole purpose of promoting backward and rabidly right-wing politicians. Strip it from its federal tax exemption. Now!

  • John1263

    why should this building used for secular purposes get tax exempt status? and how do I claim my house?Actually isn’t this why that nut case in Texas flew his private plane into the IRS building? Wasn’t he claiming his home as a tax exempt religious institution when it was in fact his house?The taxes he cheated on probably paid for the plane.

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