DENVER – Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson has been cleared of accusations that he endangered his organization's nonprofit status by endorsing Republican candidates in 2004, an Internal Revenue Service audit found.
The IRS said Dobson, who backed President Bush's re-election bid, was acting as an individual and not on behalf of the conservative Christian ministry.
The influential child psychologist announced the findings Monday on his national radio show.
At least two liberal watchdog groups — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Colorado Springs-based Citizens Project — filed complaints with the IRS in 2005 against Dobson. The complaints alleged that Dobson improperly used Focus on the Family resources to support candidates and urged investigations into the group's tax-exempt status.
In a letter to Focus on the Family officials, the IRS states: "Our examination revealed that Dr. Dobson's reported remarks did not occur in publications of Focus on the Family, did not occur at functions of Focus on the Family, and did not involve Dr. Dobson suggesting that he was speaking as a representative of Focus on the Family."
Dobson took unprecedented steps into the political arena in 2004. He formed a new political affiliate called Focus on the Family Action, endorsed social conservative GOP candidates for Congress and supported Bush, the first time he had endorsed a presidential candidate.
Under IRS rules, 501(c)(3) nonprofits such as Focus on the Family can speak out about issues and do a limited amount of lobbying. But they can't get involved in races involving candidates.
In offering candidate endorsements, Dobson emphasizes he is speaking as an individual. IRS rules do not prohibit representatives of nonprofit groups from wading into partisan politics as long as they don't do it under the banner of their organizations.
Critics, however, contend that Dobson and Focus on the Family are inextricably bound.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington complaint, which ran more than 90 pages, charged that Dobson capitalized on his identification with Focus on the Family and "used Focus on the Family resources for his political activities, giving the understandable perception that he was acting as chairman and founder of Focus on the Family."
A CREW spokeswoman said Monday the group has requested a copy of the IRS letter from Focus on the Family and would not respond until it has reviewed it. The IRS does not release audit findings, but audited organizations are free to do so.
The Citizens Project complaint centered on a Focus on the Family magazine article the group argued crossed the line by using persuasive language to imply support for Bush.
"Certainly, we believe Focus on the Family and Dobson have the right of free speech as individuals to espouse their political views, and I'm very pleased to hear the IRS found they were not violating any of the rules," said Barb Van Hoy, executive director of Citizens Project. "We'll keep watching them because they seem willing to push to the very edge."
On his radio broadcast Monday, Dobson characterized the challenge to Focus on the Family's tax-exempt status as an attack meant to muzzle the group and conservative pastors nationwide from speaking out about moral issues.
"We believe in the rule of law," Dobson said. "We believe in following to the letter IRS regulations and every other aspect of the law."