Del. Adrienne A. Jones, the speaker pro tem of the House of Delegates, said yesterday that she will return more than $2,000 in campaign contributions made by churches in an effort to "do the right thing" and to protect the congregations' tax-exempt status.
The announcement occurred after an article published in The Sun on Sunday found more than 100 churches throughout Maryland had made campaign contributions since 2000, an act prohibited by the Internal Revenue Service for nonprofit organizations.
"I believe that the churches, who were not aware of this tax law, should not be penalized for participating in the political process," Jones said in a statement. "The law is clear on this matter, and it is the responsible thing to do as a lawmaker."
Jones is the first politician among those identified by The Sun as having received campaign contributions from tax-exempt religious organizations to say she plans to return the money.
Neither state nor federal law bars candidates from receiving the contributions, but the Internal Revenue Service strictly prohibits churches from making them. Individual parishioners and pastors, by contrast, may donate to campaigns as long as the money does not from come from church coffers.
The Sun's analysis found Jones received 18 contributions totaling $1,950. The Baltimore County Democrat said she believes the number is slightly higher than that, about $2,200 -- a difference that might be explained by the range of time reviewed, or by contributors whose names did not clearly indicate they are churches.
In an interview yesterday, Jones said she called several of the churches after the article appeared and learned that many were not aware of the IRS regulations. She said she intends to organize a forum to help religious leaders navigate the bounds of their political activity.
Meanwhile, Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel Republican, said he intends to send an IRS pamphlet explaining the tax law to churches that have given. Dwyer did not receive church contributions, according to a State Board of Elections database.
Statewide, at least 115 churches have given to about 40 candidates since 2000. Though many of the donations were small, a number of candidates reaped significant benefits.
Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who received thousands from churches, declined to comment on the announcement yesterday. Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat who also received church contributions, could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.
Churches that give to candidates can face revocation of their tax-exempt status or a 10 percent excise tax on the contributions, according to an IRS brochure that outlines nonprofit tax law for churches.
"Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position ... violate the prohibition against political campaign activity," the brochure reads.