Religious organizations are generally not allowed to donate to politicians, but often find clever ways to skirt the Internal Revenue Service prohibitions.
One way is just for the pastor and key church officials to personally make big contributions, and encourage their flock to do the same, to support candidates who share their values. Another is to allow candidates to speak to congregants directly, which lets the politician associate himself or herself with that particular house of worship.
Both are gray areas.
It's quite another thing, though, for a church to give directly to a political candidate. That's what appears to be happening in the case of Hinds County Democratic hopeful Willie Earl Robinson. Campaign finance reports show that Hill of Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bolton made a donation of $500 to Robinson's campaign.
Robinson's challenger in the Hinds County District 2 race, Darrel McQuirter, is a pastor. The name of his church -- Pleasant Green Baptist Church -- does not appear on his finance reports, but McQuirter and his wife personally contributed more than $7,000 to the campaign coffers.
Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, charitable organizations (in fact, all corporations) are prohibited from making contributions in connection with federal elections. This is not a federal election. However, the IRS code, which applies to all organizations that have tax-exempt status, states: "(A)ll section 501(c)(3) 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."
A Guidestar.com search of 501c3 nonprofits as well as a search of charities through the Mississippi Secretary of State yielded no results for a Hill of Zion M.B. Church in Bolton.
An attempt to reach the church by phone this morning was not successful.