ELKINS - Charles Kinnison, a Republican nominee for a 43rd District House of Delegates seat, has resubmitted his campaign finance report after questions were raised about an in-kind contribution from an Elkins church.
Kinnison, a former Elkins City Council member, initially submitted his campaign financial statement for the May 13 primary election on April 3, listing a non-monetary donation on Feb. 10 from the Elkins Family Worship Center, valued at $240 for "printed letter for mailing."
Contacted by The Inter-Mountain Wednesday, Kinnison responded with an email, writing, "When submitting my campaign finance reports to the Secretary of State as public record, I have been unaware of any wrongdoing, and have not been contacted by any governing body to the contrary. Since question (sic) has been raised regarding an item on the first primary report, I have submitted amended reports to the Secretary of State's Office which are public record. I strive to follow the law and pay my debts and that will not be in jeopardy of change due to running for the House of Delegates."
Kinnison submitted an amended campaign financial statement on May 30, listing the $240 as an "unpaid bill" to the Elkins Family Worship Center.
Jake Glance, the press secretary for West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, told The Inter-Mountain Wednesday he is prohibited by code from discussing whether or not there is an investigation into Kinnison's financial statements. Glance said any impropriety would be determined through the Internal Revenue Service, not through the Secretary of State's Office.
According to the Internal Revenue Service website, churches are considered tax exempt and must abide by strict guidelines that prohibit election activity. Under the Internal Revenue Code, all 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, 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. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity."
The code further states that "violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes."
Jamie Estep, the pastor for the Elkins Family Worship Center, did not return phone calls from The Inter-Mountain. Earlier this week, Estep told The Charleston Gazette Kinnison used the church's copier to print a campaign letter. Estep said Kinnison did not use any church supplies, and no money changed hands.
Kinnison was employed by the church from 2011 to 2012 as an evangelism coordinator, according to his campaign's Facebook page.
Delegate Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, an incumbent who is one of two Democratic nominees for the 43rd District, said Kinnison must deal with the matter.
"I don't know if changing his reports was legal," Hartman said Wednesday evening. "Federal law prohibits non profits from endorsing candidates in general. I am surprised no one knew about it."
Hartman said he does not intend to go through Kinnison's financial reports.
"This is something he has to deal with," Hartman said. "You have to be careful when you are in politics what ground you walk on. The ethics people will have to determine if changing the report is legal. Apparently, Kinnison did not know the contribution was wrong or he would not have originally listed it on his report."
Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, is the other Democratic nominee seeking re-election in the 43rd District.
"There is a separation between church and state," Campbell said. "While running for political office, it is important to educate yourself as much as possible about regulations, both at the state and federal level."
Financial reports for political candidates are posted online at www.sos.wv.gov.