LDS Church Lobbies for Retaining Charitable Deductions

LDS Church Lobbies for Retaining Charitable Deductions

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been lobbying the state's Tax Reform Task Force for retaining charitable deductions on state income taxes.

Several legislators saw nothing improper with the contacts. "If they had not called me (to ask for a meeting), I would have called them," said task force co-chairman Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

However, some are concerned that the church might be expecting special consideration from Mormon legislators.

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told the Deseret Morning News, that he came away from a meeting a week ago with three church officials, including lobbyist William Evans, "a little confused.

"While it was not directly said, I came away with the distinct impression that this was an outreach by a lobbyist that was not done in a vacuum but with the approval of the First Presidency," he said.

Hughes, a Mormon, said the charitable deduction "was not (portrayed as) a spiritual litmus test," but the tone of the discussion caused him concern.

"The communication that I came away with is that there isn't a line of demarkation between the administrative and the spiritual eye in trying to make the best decisions for the church," Hughes said.

Bramble and Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, who have spoken with Evans and other church lobbyists about the charitable deduction, said that at no time did discussions carry any religious implications.

It was clear "that this (deduction) was not a point of ecclesiastic loyalty," said Bramble.

"There was no talk of anything like that (religious overtones) -- not even a veiled threat," Valentine said.

Evans did not return the newspaper's calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Church spokesman Dale Bills said, "As have many charitable organizations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has consistently made known its strong support of state tax deductions for charitable giving. The church has shared its long-standing position with the public and elected officials."

The task force is to recommend tax changes to the 2006 Legislature. More than 80 percent of the 104 part-time legislators are Mormons.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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