NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A Virginia pastor who is running for a City Council seat is being investigated by local authorities for allegedly campaigning and soliciting donations during church services.
The Daily Press reports that a video surfaced recently showing Willard Maxwell Jr., pastor of New Beech Grove Baptist Church and a candidate for the North District Seat B on the Newport News City Council, asking for donations and encouraging audience members during a church service to put up signs on his behalf.
“We have signs out there if you want to take a sign to your house, that would be great,” he said in the video. He added later, “Anytime you want to donate $5, $25 — it doesn’t matter, or get other people to donate, I would really appreciate it.”
A woman who identified herself as Sharon Richardson forwarded the video to the Commonwealth’s Attorney and Voter Registrar’s Office, as well as the Daily Press.
According to the IRS, religious organizations are prohibited from campaigning on behalf of — or in opposition to — any political candidate for elective public office. Churches that violate this provision are at risk of losing tax-exempt status.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn emailed Richardson on Oct. 17, saying, “The video that you sent is very disturbing. Please be assured that this matter is under investigation and is being taken very seriously.”
Maxwell told the newspaper he has done nothing wrong, as he has let numerous candidates speak at his church during services for years — including his opponent for City Council, Curtis Bethany.
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