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Scott Beard, a Texas pastor and former candidate for Abilene City Council.
Scott Beard, a Texas pastor and former candidate for Abilene City Council. | Screenshot: YouTube/Scott Beard

A Texas pastor running for a city council seat was recently fined $3,500 after violating the state’s election law by accepting political campaign donations from churches and placing campaign signs on church property.

Scott Beard, founding pastor of Fountaingate Fellowship who launched a failed campaign for Abilene City Council last year, was found guilty by the Texas Ethics Commission in May of violating state election laws and the fine was enforced last month.

According to the TEC’s order and agreed resolution, Beard “failed to disclose the identified in-kind donations in his campaign finance reports,” “accepted corporate donations from FountainGate as a candidate,” and “accepted political donations from other registered churches.”

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The order also noted that Beard used his office at the church to distribute campaign signs and buy campaign hats. Authorities allege that Beard “knowingly accepted political contributions that he knew violated the ban on corporate donations.”

The order listed other churches that contributed to Beard’s campaign, including Fountaingate Merkel, Remnant Church of Abilene and Hope 4 Life Church of Abilene, also known as Hope Chapel Foursquare Abilene.

Beard claimed he returned the money when he realized the church donations “may have been corporate donations.”

Kristin Postell, an Abilene attorney who filed a complaint with the commission, told The Texas Tribune and ProPublica she was pleased with the outcome.

“I don’t think anyone is going to follow the rules overly closely unless violating them would result in a real financial burden,” Postell said.

In addition to the TEC’s order and fines, some Abilene residents have filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service accusing Beard’s church of illegal campaign activities, The Tribune and ProPublica reported.

While Beard’s violations violate state law, federal restrictions on church political involvement have been in place for decades.

In 1954, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment to the bill introduced by then-Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson that prohibited 501(c)(3) organizations, particularly charities and churches, from participating in political campaign activities.

This measure, known as the “Johnson Amendment,” has sparked controversy in recent years. Some argue that it unfairly restricts the freedom of expression of religious organizations.

Although President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 directing the IRS to relax the restrictions of the Johnson Amendment, the measure remains in effect.

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