IRS: It's Not a Think Tank, It's a Church

ProPublica reports that conservative Family Research Council gets the designation
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 11, 2022 3:22 PM CDT
IRS: It's Not a Think Tank, It's a Church
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is the leader of a church in the eyes of the IRS.   (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

When the Family Research Council surfaces in news stories, it is often described as a right-wing think tank. The FRC defines itself on its website as a "nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to articulating and advancing a family-centered philosophy of public life." The Southern Poverty Law Center, meanwhile, sees the FRC as a "hate group" for its advocacy for anti-LGBTQ legislation. But as ProPublica reports, the IRS views the organization in a fourth way—as that of a formal church. In 2020, the FRC filed an application to the IRS to be designated as such, and the agency approved the request later that year, according to Freedom of Information documents obtained by the outlet. FRC President Tony Perkins is thus considered its religious leader.

The perks? The FRC is "no longer required to file a public tax return, known as a Form 990, revealing key staffer salaries, the names of board members and related organizations, large payments to independent contractors and grants the organization has made," per ProPublica. And "unlike with other charities, IRS investigators can’t initiate an audit on a church unless a high-level Treasury Department official has approved the investigation." The FRC argued that is essentially like the Southern Baptist Convention with "member" or "partner" churches. It did not, however, list any such partner churches in its application.

Does it perform rituals such as baptisms, weddings, or funerals? (That's among the IRS criteria for church designation.) Yes, the FRC said in its application, but those are handled by its partner churches. Ditto for religious education for children. Neither the FRC nor the IRS answered questions from ProPublica, whose story suggests the tax agency is way too lax on such designations. One critic quoted in the piece has a stronger term ("bull----") to describe the FRC's church claims. Read the full story, which notes that the FRC technically has a political arm called Family Research Council Action, though the story finds the distinction between FRC and FRC Action to be "fuzzy." (More Family Research Council stories.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.