Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a complaint with the IRS requesting an investigation into what they called numerous violations of federal law governing political activity by Liberty University. Liberty is a 501(c)(3) organization and therefore is forbidden from endorsing or campaigning for or against candidates. In a press release, AU said:
In a letter to the IRS, Americans United says Falwell and other Liberty officials used the official school newspaper, Liberty Champion, to repeatedly attack incumbent Shannon Valentine and endorse her opponent, Scott Garrett. Garrett won the election by about 200 votes after returns came in from a precinct heavily populated by Liberty students.
“We have documented a clear pattern of partisan intervention orchestrated by top Liberty officials,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “I believe the evidence is clear that Liberty officials have violated the law.”
AU’s letter – the result of more than three months of investigating – makes the following allegations:
• Falwell and other university officials used Liberty Champion, ostensibly a student publication but one that is actually subject to university control, to run a series of articles attacking Valentine and endorsing Garrett.
• University officials twice arranged for a “voter guide” published by the Virginia Family Foundation to appear in the Champion. The guide distorted Valentine’s views and was stacked to endorse Garrett. Copies of the Oct. 27 issue of the newspaper were mailed to all Lynchburg residents.
• On Election Day, Ergun Caner, a top university official, drove around campus with the College Republicans, rounding up voters.
• Falwell and other Liberty officials later boasted that their actions had swayed the election to Garrett. They have vowed to intervene in future elections.
The IRS rarely does much of anything with such complaints. I can’t remember the last time they actually took away a tax exemption because of such violations, though I’m sure it’s happened.