Thursday, July 27, 2006

Religion and Politics -- LDS Church and Party Affiliation RELOADED

I was busy not working yesterday, and I came across a comment in Rob Miller's "Sacrament Meeting" piece that made a very palpable point regarding politics being preached from the pulpit.

JTH said "Although I believe that politics from any party should not be discussed or preached, in a place of worship. I find even more disturbing when one party is given preference over others. Thanks for an excellent post. After reading all the comments in reference to this post, I have one question. Where is the IRS when you need them?"

While the LDS Church as an organization has come out year after year with statements of neutrality, members who preach political rhetoric do run the risk of getting the LDS church in hot water with the IRS as I discussed in a previous post.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Under Internal Revenue Code such an organization would and could lose tax exempt status if they are caught openly endorsing parties or campaigns....... This matter is one that the IRS watches very diligently and accusations are investigated regularly. If there was so much as a campaign poster seen on church property there would be consequences.

Food for thought for anyone who mingles their party affiliation with preaching form the pulpit, you maybe causing some headaches for the organization you profess to love. The IRS does encourage these types of infringements to be reported, and in severe cases an organization could lose exempt status. Although I'm guessing the church's legal department has had to deal with IRS inquiries of this manner many times.

Moral: Don't preach politics at church!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mike Leavitt Once Again is Plagued by Accusations of Corruption

In an article in the Washington Post, and other national news sources have reported on a Leavitt family foundation which falls very close to one of the IRS' Dirty Dozen tax scams. The foundation failed to meet giving requirements of 5% of assets for 2002, 2003, and 2004 (see returns here) Mike Leavitt claimed 1.2 million in deductions since 2000, while the foundation gave 332,000 to Leavitt Land and Investment, Inc. a land investment company which Sec. Leavitt owns a large stake, and other secured loans for insurance and real estate deals.

Leavitt's Secretary Christina Pearson made a statement that "the foundation's activities are totally legal and proper."However, Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, said that "the Leavitts are using the foundation as a personal piggy bank, and that's not what the public -- or Congress -- ought to tolerate." Use of "charitable" foundations are often abused as IRS Commissioner notes, "Some promoters in this area have encouraged individuals to establish and operate supporting organizations . . . that they can control for their own benefit. There are a variety of methods of abuse, but a common theme is a 'charitable' donation of an amount to the supporting organization, and a return of the donated amount to the donor, often in the form of a purported loan that may never be repaid."

For more fodder to the culture of corruption crowd, our former Governor and his family seem to be using this foundation as a tax scam. Although I don't know if they crossed from the grey into the black (criminal areas of tax law) it really adds to the evidence that former Governor and now Sec. Leavitt might have subscribed to an ethical paradigm of "as long as it is legal, it is ethical". This is another dismaying charge of corruption with the most prominent politician from Utah in the middle of it.

An interesting note in the story is of the few organizations that the Dixie & Anne Leavitt Foundation support one was the Western Association of Leavitt Families, which promotes genealogical research and religious activities for the descendants of the first Leavitts, who helped establish Utah as a Mormon state. Icing on the cake is Leavitt and his family's ability to take a deduction for doing personal genealogical research.

This case brings up the question how do I know who to give to? The best advice I can give is this, IRS approved charities have their tax returns open to public inspection and there are various websites devoted to giving information about US charities. I suggest researching out charities you are unfamiliar with before giving, and the safest thing you can do is to only give to well-known organizations.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Religion and Politics -- LDS Church and Party Affiliation

Religion & politics has been a topic which I have enjoyed reading in the many posts that have been written throughout the Utah blogosphere since Cliff's piece, "Special Conversations". As a conservative-leaning Republican this topic has made me reflect a great deal on my own political views and how my religious views intermingle.

I must concede that there are a fair portion of members of this state's majority religion who view their Church's statement of neutrality as a "wink and a nod" endorsement of the Republican party. This problem of course is one that comes because many people don't take the time to know what the party they affiliate with stands for, and use one or two issues to classify their political ideals. I have even heard one member hear go so far as to state that "How can a Latter-day Saint be a Mormon and a Democrat" simply because his pet issue (abortion) trumps all others in his political paradigm. I'm sure cases of narrowmindedness like this and others aren't isolated in Zion, although I hope them to be the exception an not a norm.

As the LDS Church's neutrality statement suggest both parties have views and positions that are in harmony with the precepts and doctrines espoused in Mormonism. As I have noted in the past the neutrality statement does have a legal reason for its existence, but it has a sound religious doctrinal purpose as well "members (and all citizens) should study and pray about the candidates" rather than blindly voting down one column of a ballot. I believe this sort of proactive participation is the democracy that the founding fathers had in mind when writing the Constitution, and not vote strictly per myopic, mind-numbing, black and white political paradigms in which many Americans exist. With that thought it may well be said that full and utter allegiance to one political party over another hinders the development and progress of our nation. Party alignment is necessary, however our commitment to democracy needs to be deep enough that we seek candidates who have positions consistent with right principles, and candidates who that stretch their positions beyond the narrow borders of party talking points.

Democracy is one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world, it is an invention that was inspired by God. With such a great gift from God there comes responsibility, our responsibility is to be engaging, thoughtful, prayerful, in the decisions we make when we go to the polls. May we as Utahns, Mormons, non-Momons, Americans stretch our voting decisions beyond party allegiances to learn and vote according to the merits of every candidate rather than the rhetoric and stigmas connected to respective political parties.

Utah Gov. Huntsman backs McCain over fellow Mormon Romney

In a early move Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman announced that he is behind Jon McCain for President in '08. The two have similarly moderate Republican views, but why so early on in the game?

My take on Huntsman's premature endorsement is this, he is a career politician/businessman and every new position he gets (i.e governor of Utah) is another stepping stone up the latter to the pinnacle of of his power goals. He will have served his first term as Governor, and that would be a good time to jump ship for a more prestigious position as either a member of a McCain cabinet, or (highly speculative) as a Vice-President. Huntsman, is betting on his horse now to gain favor with the man he sees conquering in the next presidential race.

His rejection of Romney is merely a verification that he sees Romney as being unelectable because of his Mormon roots. Which leads to another good question -- what are Huntsman's ultimate political goals? President? I wonder if he believes being associated with moderate McCain will relieve him of the stigma of being a Mormon politician.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tax Reform -- The Pitch

On Tuesday in the Utah GOP leaders out lined tax cut plans in the Deseret News. "There are no losers who would pay more under the new plans", said Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, "There are only some big winners — and those are mostly low-income Utahns," The official word on the plan is that there will be a dual tax syatem, from which Utahns choose the most beneficial result. Under flat tax portion of the new tax system, Utahns would pay at a rate of 5.3% with no credit for itemized deductions -- with a twist. In order to combat the tax cut for the rich, the proposal is including exemptions up to a phase out amount. On the traditional tax side, all remains the same except the top rate will either, (a) remain the same with brackets being more spread out, or (b) be lowered from 7% to 6.9%. The Governor is intent on this being passed by the end of the year in time for the '06 tax season.

The flat tax proposal, while still not my favorite I appreciate the effort to make the flat tax (at least) appear to be a viable option for the average taxpayer by allowing exepmtions for lower and middle class taxpayers. On the traditional side, the Gov's .1% top rate drop looks sexy on the outside but I would argue it to be less advantageous than the Legislature's version. Spreading the brackets out would allow for more taxpayers to pay in lower brackets as opposed to the current brackets. Current brackets are incredibly narrow, the highest 7% bracket is reached if taxable income reaches 8700 dollars for married joint filers -- so that generally means a vast majority of taxpayers.

I must applaude the Gov. and the members of the Legislature. While I think we need to be honest with ourselves Rep. Harper -- "big winners" are still going to majorly include the wealthy. However, this proposal looks like it may do an adequate job in spreading the cut across the spectrum of Utah taxpayers. I'd like to know more of the specifics of the proposal before I would fully embrace the deal. Any tax cut is better than no tax cut, I'm excited to see this progress.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Political Schizophrenia -- Utah Most Conservative State in The Union, and One of the Highest Taxed

In the Utah Taxpayers Association most recent report, and no surprise, it was announced that Utah has the 4th highest tax and fee burden in the nation. As far as income tax burden, Utah takes the 16th highest bite out of total personal income of its citizens. Although this was something for which I was well aware, it leaves me once again with ample evidence to diagnose our state government with political schizophrenia.

From George W. Bush to Ronald Reagan, we have all become well aware of "conservative" fiscal policy. "The economy is best served when citizens keep more of their money", this is a theory which I believe in. When people feel they have control over their pocket books they are more likely to go out and buy a automobile, give money to their United Way, and start a small business, etc. When people have the expectation, and/or know that the government may take a large portion of their income through taxation they are likely to hold onto their clunker automobile, give less or nothing to charity, and will stick it out in a 9-5 job that offers little chance of advancement. Supposedly, low taxes is policy that "Red Utah" would adhere to. However, with Utah beating out "True Blue" states like California and Massachusetts our legislature likely should take a hard look at themselves and ask what party are we supposedly aligned with? Maybe Democratic Party candidate in Congressional District 1, Steve Olsen, is right on target in his essay “Why Most Utahns Are Democrats and Just Don'’t Know It Yet”, the numbers at which our state levies taxes seems to point to that conclusion.

I believe in low taxation. When the government allows people to hold and spend more of their money, they will do many of the things that bring prosperity to our nation -- without the artificial economic stimulation or spending, and people will be more altruistic to private charities -- without threat of search and seizure. I hope that the Governor and the Legislature will seek tax cuts that are meaningful to all Utahns.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ure's defeat may mean end of tuition law

The DesNews brought up an interesting point regarding the defeat of Representative Dave Ure of Kamas. The article states that Ure's defeat may mean the "the death of a 2002 law Ure sponsored allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they have attended a Utah high school for at least three years and graduated." Ure is one of the biggest proponents of the law and was key in defeating a bill that would have repealed the law last year. With Ure's defeat many anti-illegal immigration groups, such as the Utah Minuteman Project, are hoping that this bill will be repealed.

Notwithstanding Ure's defeat, this article brings up an interesting issue regarding Utah policy -- Should illegal immigrants in Utah be allowed to attend state colleges at in-state prices? If we as a country are truly ever going to make a stand against illegal immigration, than it must be said giving financial breaks to those who are in the U.S. illegally could definitely be viewed as counterproductive. On the other hand, one of the major arguments used by anti immigration activists groups is that illegals are simply importing poverty and crime from Mexico into the United States, which is often bred due to a lack of education. Without comprehensive reform being passed in Congress this year due to Hatch's amendment parade, this question may still be a difficult one to answer.

In my perfect world, I would like to see the state keep this law on the books -- but with a few modifications. Educated and intelligent immigrants breath new life into our nation, they take civic duty to heart and are actively engaged, usually, in living the American dream. Because this bill helps educate those who have immigrated to our country I believe this could also help as an incentive to attain citizenship. At the end of the road if an illegal has attended Utah colleges as an in-state student and they finish a Bachelor's degree the state should offer assistance to these students in order for them to attain legal citizenship. The state has paid the price to educate these people, and so the state (which often pines over the need for more college educated citizens) should hang on these people. This law is a powerful step in negating some of the most lamented negative impacts that illegal immigration has on America. However without offering citizenship at the end of the road, this law is not serving the state to its full potential.