The Rev. Jesse Jackson intends to go ahead with a plan to collect contributions for his Democratic presidential campaign at churches across the nation this Sunday, despite objections by two influential Washington-based lobbying groups that the fund-raising scheme raises serious ethical questions and may violate federal tax laws.
"The objections are not founded in anything that would make us alter what we're doing," said Jackson campaign spokeswoman Pam Smith. "We think it's absolutely legal." Smith said the "Super Sunday" collection would be gathered separately from each church's regular collection.
Smith said that 500 churches, most of them predominantly black, are involved in the Super Sunday fund-raiser. Posters and flyers have been distributed to the churches urging parishioners to bring checks or money orders payable to Jackson's campaign.
People for the American Way, a liberal lobby founded by television producer Norman Lear, and the 50,000-member Americans United for Separation of Church and State both have raised objections to the plan.
In a Jan. 19 letter to Jackson, John Buchanan, director of People for the American Way who is a Baptist minister and former congressman, said: "I am deeply concerned that passing the church collection plate for the benefit of your political campaign suggests a church endorsement for your candidacy."
In a similar letter, Robert Maddox, a Baptist minister and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the fund-raising event may violate Internal Revenue Service regulations prohibiting churches and nonprofit groups from endorsing political candidates.
Under the federal tax code, tax-exempt organizations are forbidden from "participating or intervening in" any political campaign on behalf of a candidate for public office. This includes publishing or distributing campaign materials.