Lexington pastor makes robo-call urging pro-life voters to support Williams-Farmer

10/13/2011 09:03 AM

A Lexington pastor has recorded an automated call urging people who oppose abortion to vote for the Republican gubernatorial ticket of David Williams and Richie Farmer.

Jeff Fugate, pastor at Clays Mill Baptist Church, recorded the call, which was paid for by the Kentucky Republican Party.

Fugate identifies himself on the call as “Pastor Fugate from Lexington” and doesn’t mention Clays Mill Baptist Church so as not to jeopardize the church’s federal tax-exempt status.

“I have never endorsed a candidate from the pulpit in my 20 years as a pastor,” Fugate said in a telephone interview.

In the robo-call, though, Fugate’s message about who to support is clear.

“If you are pro-life and want to support a pro-life governor, vote for David Williams,” Fugate says in the script of the call. He then mentions how Williams was endorsed by Kentucky Right to Life and Northern Kentucky Right to Life and goes on to give the Williams-Farmer campaign web site for those receiving the call to find out more.

Religious leaders who get involved in political campaigns have to walk a fine line to avoid running afoul of IRS rules. For instance, the IRS put leaders from several California churches on notice this month for participating in an event organized by a Christian legal organization that highlighted moral credentials of political candidates.

Jason Nemes, a Louisville attorney who practices election law, said any 501(c )(3) organization such as a church that endorses or advocates for the election and defeat of a candidates jeopardizes the tax exempt status.

But Nemes, who is not affiliated with any campaigns, said Fugate is probably in the clear because he didn’t identify his church in the call. He cited a IRS ruling from June 2007.

“Assuming the pastor did not identify himself as speaking on behalf of the church and that the endorsement was not made in an official church publication or at an official church function, then the pastor’s personal comments are not likely to jeopardize his church’s tax-exempt status,” Nemes said.

Steve Robertson, the Republican Party of Kentucky chairman, declined to say how many of the automated calls were made last week, although he said they were made to voters across the state.

“Pastor Fugate was very interested in communicating the difference between the candidates on pro-life issues,” Robertson said. “Governor (Steve) Beshear and his running mate are not pro-life.”

Religious leaders have gotten involved with Kentucky campaigns in the past. Wayne Smith, the former pastor at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, was active in supporting former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s candidacy in 2003. But he had retired from being the full-time pastor by then.


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