On Tuesday, The Huffington Post published an expose exploring the relationship between a non-profit “Christian” charity and Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land and her family. The World Mission non-profit – which has a mission to spread the gospel to all non-Christians and convert them to evangelical Christianity – has three Land family members on the Board, including Land’s husband, father and a brother-in-law, according to the report.
So what, right?
Well, on Thursday night, I swung by the World Mission Thrift store in Lansing. Right there in the breezeway of the facility were Terri Lynn Land for Senate yard signs. That, says Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, is likely a violation of federal rules and laws which govern non-profits.
“World Mission Thrift is an assumed name for World Mission, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Using its facilities to promote a political candidate is a clear violation of its tax status as a charitable organization,” Robinson tells Between The Lines in an email. “It’s like a church endorsing a political candidate. Charitable organizations are subsidized by taxpayers because contributions to them are tax deductible. They are not allowed to endorse political candidates.”
The IRS explains the rule, “Organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
World Thrift employees referred me to Greg Kelley, the organization’s executive director. He was in a board meeting Friday morning, and a woman named Laurel who answered the phone said he would not be available until after Between The Lines’ deadline.
But she called back a few minutes later and provided the organization’s explanation of why the signs were being distributed from the nonprofit’s location in the capital city. “An employee brought them in. They were not supposed to be there,” Laurel told BTL. “They have been removed.”
Except World Mission’s official story does not jibe completely with what employees of World Mission told me when I asked about the signs the night before. Those employees confirmed that another employee brought the signs to the location; that’s where the stories diverge. Those employees told me corporate leadership recently ordered the signs to be pulled, then sometime this week called and gave the store the all clear to make the signs available again. If anyone asked about the signs, the employees told me, they were to be referred to Kelley at the corporate offices. Incidentally, I was at this location about two weeks ago purchasing a pair of shoes for a play I am doing in Lansing, and the signs were present. So if they weren’t “supposed to be there,” how come they were there until a reporter started asking about them and taking pictures?
And maybe, those pesky rules are being ignored because Land fits into the core values for the organization. The charity’s website lists as its final core value, “Holy Spirit led national leaders are the most effective ground laborers to implement our mission and engage unreached peoples.”
The folks over at the Michigan Democratic Party are also raising red flags on this.
“Terri Lynn Land doesn’t think the rules apply to her and this could be the latest example of Ms. Land potentially breaking the law to further her political ambition,” says Kevin McAlister, senior communications adviser for the MDP. The statement was emailed to BTL in response to a request for comment. “Independent experts have already raised questions about Ms. Land possibly funding her campaign with $3 million illegally while paying 2.2 percent in taxes. Michiganders deserve straightforward answers from Ms. Land about her connections to her family’s shady business practices – including this intolerant charity.”