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.

  • E M

    This happens a lot. I know of a church that rents out their parsonage and depends on that money.

  • Coyotenose

    Doesn’t rendering services in exchange for living space still count as rent?

  • Gordon Duffy

    Simplest solution would be to stop giving churches tax exemptions. 

    • ReadsInTrees

      Bare minimum, they should at least pay property taxes to the towns they’re located in. They get police, fire, rescue, maintained roads and sidewalks…..but pay no taxes. I work for a police department, and there have been many times when officers have had to stop what they’re doing to go direct traffic after a big church function. Or deal with cars parked illegally all over the place on Sunday mornings.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Rent? What rent? Taxable use of a house? What house?

    C’nery? Wh’t c’nery?

  • Frank Hannan

    Is it a surprise that there seems to be some lying going on?

    Who would have expected that from a politician or a pastor?

  • PJB863

    Even in churches that have no tax exempt property aside from the main church building, clergy of that church get a housing allowance – tax free.  Not sure how it applies to church owned cemetaries and the caretakers residence.

    • Erp

       There may be some exemption for other residences but usually if living in the residence is part of the job requirement for a charitable group  (e.g., the caretaker doubles as a night watchman for the church’s graveyard  or a  teacher is overseeing student boarders and therefore gets a cottage next to the dorm). 

      O’Donnell junior isn’t the one potentially in major trouble here (at least until he changed his story)  since as the renter he isn’t the one responsible for seeing the property taxes are paid or even knowing what the tax status of the house is.  It is tax fraud if he lies under oath about not paying rent when he has in order to protect the church.  Or has paid rent and written it off as a donation to the church (you aren’t allowed to deduct donations that directly result in material gain such as free housing for you). 

  • Ross McCoy

    I love seeing stuff like this go down in the place I call home.

  • Marco

    Last time I checked, you still have to pay taxes when bartering. In my case, it was very different as I donated a great deal of my time to a non-profit (non religious). Their own CPA told me that I would be able to deduct my work as a taxable donation.
    I was skeptical so I looked into it and indeed I would have been able to if I first got paid, then donated that money to the non profit. 
    But that turned out to create another tax nightmare, so I just did the work, got a pat on the back and went my way.

    • DougI

       He claims he reported the free rent as income.  Even if that’s the case it is still rent at a reduced price.  If you want to be entertained you can go to the Wichita Eagle where the article came from an read the comments.  Pastor O’Donnell posts there fore damage control and his excuses are rather amusing.

    • Good and Godless

      I volunteer with a couple non-profits and like you and to specialized skills my time is counted as a donation by the organization. Most of my cohorts deduct their contribution on taxes. I do not consider it a “donation” or “volunteering” if I get something much bigger than a mustard seed in return which is why the initial word “volunteer” is not in quotes in this paragraph.

      I volunteer,  I donate and I know there is no reward, ever.

  • http://twitter.com/scotankhamen scotankhamen

    As a resident of Wichita, I can attest to O’Donnell’s penchant for being an ass-hat. This article doesn’t even BEGIN to approach it. But that picture is priceless. He’s like a GOP-infused Pee Wee Herman.

    • Pegk

      Can I steal that line….please! 

      • http://twitter.com/scotankhamen scotankhamen

         Please do. Steal away!

    • DougI

       A double shame is Jean Schodorf has a really hot daughter.  Now I probably won’t get to see her as often.

    • TheKevinBates

      He looks like a ventriloquism dummy.  Just imagine the two lines from the corners of his mouth dropping down.

  • DougI

    I had originally filed an IRS complaint about this, but the IRS hasn’t moved on it, probably because they are understaffed.  Thankfully Peggy had enough sense to get the county government on it.  The next step is to file a complaint with the state government concerning campaign finance since a reduced rent can be considered a campaign donation (O’Donnell lists his home as the campaign HQ).

    O’Donnell Jr. claims that he worked as a janitor for the church until 2009 as the free house was his pay which he claimed he accounted for on his taxes.  However, at a max tax rate of 33% he isn’t paying the fair market value of the rent (about $700 a month). 

    If found to have violated campaign laws he’ll be fined again (he had to pay a $500 fine previously for using government property to campaign).  And if found guilty then it’s more evidence that the church was violating it’s tax-exempt status so I get to file a new complaint.  Yipee.

    The pastor claims he needs his son to stay at the home in order to ward off vandals.  However, junior is trying for a job up in Topeka, so I guess he isn’t needed that badly.

    • The Other Weirdo

       Is that like putting a lightning rod on top of a church? Shouldn’t the Big Man Upstairs(tm) be takin’ care of the vandals?

      • DougI

         Maybe they figured O’Donnell is good at scaring children and crows.  He is quite creepy looking.

  • A3Kr0n

    He’s such a clean cut boy. If his hair was any shorter his horn nubs would show.

  • Uggs

    Ok, I’ll be the one to say it: This guy looks like a closeted gay man. And I don’t mean that in a small-minded, hateful way. I mean it in a very realistic way. He’s just very, very pretty and well-groomed. And I could be wrong but I’ll bet I’m not.

    • jdm8

      The photo seems heavily photoshopped.

      • DougI

         That photo is from O’Donnell’s campaign.  He really does look like that.  For some reason I just feel like punching him whenever I look at it.

        • jdm8

          Are there independently taken photos of him that look like that?

          • DougI

            I have been informed that he does wear makeup.  He says it’s to look good for the cameras.  One can wonder.

            • jdm8

              I looked him up in Google Images. There are a few other photos that look like that. He has the exact same smile in every shot.

              • Guest.

                 I’ll have to go do the same.  His lips aren’t a natural color, brows are shadowy and his forehead looks overexposed or lightened, i.e. shopped.  If that’s actually what he looks like (plastic doll), I’d be nervous around him IRL – uncanny valley syndrome.

    • http://twitter.com/scotankhamen scotankhamen

       He is TOTALLY a closeted gay man. And he really does look like that. He is a GOP conservative who’s the son of a Baptist minister. He is NEVER coming out of that closet. He calls himself “Wichita’s Most Eligible Bachelor.” Priceless

    • Coyotenose

       oh right, because gay men look like a stereotype, I forgot.

      I know or have met quite a few gay men, but not a one that looks like
      the stereotype. Most of them look pretty average, though many are in
      good shape, owing to living or moving to areas where healthy living is
      more in vogue. Not a one that has a baby-smooth face, let alone a
      creepy-ass Chuckie stare like that guy. He’s obviously wearing makeup,
      but even so…

      I realize that the serial outings a while back alerted us to the irony that is Closeted Christian Bigot Syndrome, but tearing them down based on that meme alone doesn’t strike me as appropriate. Tearing them down for exposed hypocrisy* is just dandy, though (until somebody can explain to me why not.)

      *To be more specific, I mean tearing them down for attacking other homosexuals, not for being closeted or confused. That’s understandable.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Christians lying. In other news, water is wet. 

  • BenofSoCal

    What’s this?  Christians being persecuted again?  Jeez, what’s with all this persecution of Christians here in America?  Poor little Christians minding their own business – just practicing their religion.  And along come these… these… Persecutors!  Pursecuting them!  Trying to take away their god-given right to defraud the government and sponge off the rest of the community!   Persecutors!  Burn in hell, you evil bastards!  MY GOD WILL SMITE YOU ALL!!  AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!

    • The Other Weirdo

       See, you had a great thing going. Why ruin it with a pirate snarl(tm)?

  • AL

    There is a church up the street from me that takes in income from renting a home on their property, and I know they are not paying any tax. Can anyone tell me how to start the complaint process for this? 

    • DougI

       The IRS has complaint forms but you might have more success on a local level.  Verify with the county appraiser’s office that the property in question is indeed listed as exempt.  If it is you can contact that office and report that they are violating their tax-exempt status by using the property for a for-profit reason and request that the status be changed and all back taxes be paid.  However, you will need to present some evidence that there is an occupant who is paying rent.  Either some public statement (as in O’Donnell’s case), an affidavit from the tenant, or some ad listed as the property being available to rent.  Since the parsonage exemption is for staff residence only if you can show that someone other than a church staff member is living there that may work as well (hence the reason O’Donnell tried to claim he was a janitor).

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.vonpaul Paul von Paul

      Sean Faircloth of the RDFRS has been asking people to investigate this type of skulduggery…

      check out his vids on the YT channel and he’ll let you know what to do… or just write him directly

      if it’s not in this vid please email him directly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsGj3ziCStc&noredirect=1

  • DougI

    This is interesting.  He doesn’t pay rent, but lists what he should have paid as ‘income’.  Then he writes checks to the church as donations which he can count as income deductions from his taxes.  So he basically gets free rent but makes the claim that he doesn’t.  What a liar and a scammer.

  • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt E

    Christians lie. Republicans lie. Politicians lie. So it is news that a Christian, Republican politician lied? The news would be if he didn’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.vonpaul Paul von Paul

    what is worse: running for political office and living rent free or running for political office and evading taxes?

    i hope this fother mucker goes to jail.

    (dear hemant, isn’t it about time she gets her own blog?)


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