A Democratic congressman railed against a “right-wing conspiracy” of outside campaign spending and said that voter ID laws could have prevented Barack Obama’s presidency during a 2012 event in which the IRS coached black ministers in how to engage in campaign activity.
The Daily Caller reported Friday on a May 30, 2012 meeting at the U.S. Capitol between the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Conference of National Black Churches. The meeting was attended by Attorney General Eric Holder, then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, and IRS official Peter Lorenzetti, all of whom spoke at the event. The meeting, which was held during the presidential campaign and at a time when the IRS was targeting conservative non-profits for abusive audits, aimed to coach black ministers in how to engage in political activity without violating the law.
“We’re going to, first of all, equip them with the information they need to know about what they can say and what they cannot say in the church that would violate their 501(c)(3) status with the IRS,” said CBC chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat.
This helpful training session for black ministers was convened while Shulman’s IRS was improperly scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of conservative and tea party groups and delaying conservative groups’ tax-exempt applications with costly investigations.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina and member of the CBC, used openly partisan rhetoric in his remarks before the convened black ministers, discussing a “right-wing conspiracy” and condemning voter ID laws that he claimed could have jeopardized Obama’s election to the White House.
“But now, all of this progress that we’ve made is under assault. There is a right-wing conspiracy that is alive and well in this country that is trying to take us back to 1900 and even before,” Butterfield said in his remarks.
“They are coming in very discreet ways. Uh, the Citizens United case for example that now allows corporations to give unlimited amounts of money, anonymous unlimited amounts of money, in support or opposition to political candidates, and it’s working. And there are other devices at play and our panelists today are going to talk with you about that and to alert you and to inform you and to empower you to go back to your communities and to be vocal on this subject and to make a difference,” Butterfield said, referring to panelists including Holder and Shulman.
“What they want to do is not take away the right to vote, but if black voter participation can be diminished even by ten percent it will make that critical difference all across the country. President Obama won my state in the last election by 14,000 votes. Had we had a voter ID law in North Carolina he would not have won the state of North Carolina and probably could not have won the presidency,” Butterfield said.
Butterfield had lots of helpful advice for black ministers looking to get politically involved.
“You are permitted to endorse a candidate in your individual capacity as a citizen. You can appear on a program away from the church and be presented as the pastor of Zion Baptist Church or Richard Allen AME church. You can do that, and without violating IRS regulations,” Butterfield said, later encouraging ministers to get involved in “non-partisan voter registration” by sending people to knock on doors and stand on street corners.
Obama won 93 percent of the black vote in the 2012 election, according to exit polling.
“Let me just thank the Internal Revenue Service for their willingness to come today to have this conversation with us. They didn’t have to come today,” Butterfield said.
Holder’s keynote speech, meanwhile, was sharply critical of recent state-level voting law changes, saying there’s reason to believe that “some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang again in the balance.”
“[The CBC] had the IRS members there specifically to advise them on how far to go campaigning without violating their tax-exempt status,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told TheDC. “I viewed the meeting as highly problematic.”
“Any questions you have regarding Attorney General Holder’s and Commissioner Shulman’s participation should be directed to their respective offices,” a spokesperson for Rep. Butterfield told TheDC.
The IRS and DOJ did not return repeated requests for comment.