Kansas State Senate Candidate ‘Misspoke’ About Paying Rent on a Church-Owned House

Is there anything funnier than when you get your words all jumbled up?  Like when you try to say “butternut squash” and it comes out “squtternut bosh”?!

Classic comedy!

Or, like, when you say, “Yeah, I’ve been paying rent to live in this church-owned and tax-exempt house since 2008.” But what you really meant to say was, “No, I most certainly do not pay rent to live in this house.”  

Tears!  I have tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.

It can happen to anyone, and Wichita City Council member and state Senate candidate Michael O’Donnell says it happened to him.

“Whoopsie daisy!”

In August, O’Donnell told The Wichita Eagle  that he had been living in, and paying rent to, a house owned by the Grace Baptist Church (where, in case you were wondering, his father presides as the Senior Pastor) since “2008 or 2009.”  He had initially moved into the rent-free house in exchange for janitorial work around the church. He began paying rent when the position ended.

Here’s the thing: Once the church-owned property started taking in rent, it was no longer eligible for its tax-exempt status… (Whether or not churches deserve their tax-exempt status in the first place is another discussion for another time *cough*religious-organizations-should-be-responsible-to-pay-the-same-taxes-as-any-other-non-profit*cough*).

Guess what happened next!? The Freedom From Religion Foundation popped over and said, “Um… so we have tax laws in this country, and if you want to rent that house out, that’s cool, but we’re going to have to ask you to pay your fair share of (legally obligated) taxes.”

To which O’Donnell’s pastor dad, Michael O’Donnell Sr., responded, “‘RENT’?  Did my son say ‘rent’?!  HA!  No! No no no. He meant that he is staying there in exchange for working in the church!  He must have misspoke.  He gets those two things mixed up all the time.  Classic Michael Jr.!”

And then Junior jumped in:

“I’ve never paid rent, a payment-like rent.I’m a regular giver to the church, meaning I give to the church. And I put it on my income taxes,” O’Donnell said Monday. “I do all kinds of stuff, working on the building, pretty much anything. My dad doesn’t have a very big staff, so I help my dad out with projects, take care of the facilities and grounds. I’ve done some extensive updates on the house.”

So when he said that he started paying rent four years ago, that was just a crazy misunderstanding.  

I don’t understand what motivation he would have for lying, seeing as it’s his father’s church that would get hit with the tax (plus several years of back-taxes), and the fact that he is running for state Senate and maybe it wouldn’t look too great on his resume to have been a party to tax fraud.

It looks like FFRF is all over this, though.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation in late August asked the Sedgwick County Appraiser’s Office to take a look at the tax-exempt status of the house, appraised this year at $76,100. County records show no general property taxes have been billed since at least 2002…

In late August, Sedgwick County Appraiser Mike Borchard told The Eagle that if the home’s predominant use isn’t for church clergy or a pastor, it would no longer be exempt and could be liable for current property taxes and back taxes.

FFRF also claimed in August that if O’Donnell were paying rent, the church could be liable for income taxes.

If the use of a tax-exempt property changes, it is the property owner’s responsibility to notify the county, Borchard said in August. When an exemption is granted, it continues each year until the property owner notifies the county the use has changed. Borchard is out of the office until late September, a spokesman for the office said, and it is unclear whether a decision will be made before his return.

Even if O’Donnell wasn’t running for office, this would be a serious problem. The fact that he’s trying to beat the very system he’s trying to become a part of says a lot about the type of person he is.

(Thanks to Peggy for the link!)

About Jessica Bluemke

Jessica Bluemke grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated from Ball State University in 2008 with a BA in Literature. She currently works as a writer and resides on the North side of Chicago.