School board member Lilisa Mimms, who ran an abortive campaign for the 3rd Ward city council seat, allegedly used a church van to get her message out contrary to federal regulations that prohibit nonprofits from engaging in political activity.
A day before the May 10th, 2016 election a picture was being circulated on social media that shows a white van clearly labeled “Church Van” promoting Mimms’ candidacy with two large campaign posters covering its rear windows.
Mimms, who is a pastor at the New Beginnings Christian Outreach Ministries, indicated the vehicle belonged to her church.
“We did not use the church van for campaigning. I was not aware that it was used. I wasn’t in the van. I was at the headquarters,” said Mimms on Friday morning. She said she received a call about the van being used for campaign purposes when a video surfaced on Facebook.
When pressed further for answers as to how a vehicle belonging to her church gets used for campaigning without her being aware of it she repeatedly said “no comments.”
“I’m not going to comment at all. I have no comments.”
Anthony Burke, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), said he could not comment on a specific case. He provided a copy of an IRS publication that lists the various rules nonprofit organizations like churches must follow to remain tax exempt.
“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious 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,” according to the IRS publication for tax exempt organizations.
Organizations that engage in political activity run the risk of losing their tax exempt status, according to the publication. Churches and other nonprofits are allowed to conduct voter registration drives, hold candidate forums, so long as the activities do not support or oppose a specific candidate.
“I think it’s disappointing,” reacted William McKoy, who successfully defended his seat against Mimms and others. “She really shouldn’t be using church property as a campaign vehicle.”
McKoy said he is unsure whether Mimms was aware of the regulations that forbid church property from being used for political purposes. He struck a sympathetic tone by characterizing it as an error.
“Everybody makes mistakes. This could be attributed to just being naive,” said McKoy. “This is something that can be corrected and hopefully she’s now aware and going forward we won’t have a recurrence of that kind of a problem.”
Candidates Kenneth Simmons declined to comment and Flavio Rivera did not call back for comments.
The four-person race in the 3rd Ward was an intense battle between McKoy, Rivera, Mimms, and Simmons.
Mimms finished third place behind Rivera. McKoy secured a fifth term on the city council.