In my hometown of Fresno, a political maelstrom broke out this week over a campaign poster backing Leticia Perez, a candidate for the California State Senate in the 16th district.
Here, in all its glory, is the poster:
Although I’ve been digging for details, I still have yet to discover a confirmed written news account of where this poster originated, although the footnote at the bottom of the poster clearly states, “Paid for by Perez for Senate 2013”. It was brought to my attention by a local Catholic friend, who rightly was incensed over the use of Our Lady of Guadalupe in this manner. The story was prevalent all week on our local talk radio station, KMJ. I tuned in one day and heard a heated conversation, with many callers sharing how offended they were by the poster. The callers included both Catholics and non-Catholics.
I pondered as I listened whether or not this was a “bloggable” issue and what — if anything — I could write on the topic that could help us to learn something rather than simply to bash a political candidate. I prayed for a few days, wrote the Chancellor for my Diocese and decided in the end to share this as a “teachable moment“.
Today, I’m not going to pile more derision on Candidate Perez. She has not made any formal response to this that I can find on her website, Facebook page, or Twitter account. I don’t know Ms. Perez’s religious background and am not making any statement on her faith life.
I do want to employ this situation to clarify what our Bishops teach about Faithful Citizenship. The Diocese of Fresno and the Catholic Church is in no way affiliated with and/or endorsing Ms. Perez’s candidacy for 16th Senate District seat. The Diocese of Fresno strictly adheres to Political Activity Guidelines for Non-Profit Organizations which are readily available on the USCCB website.
On the USCCB’s Faithful Citizenship website, we read:
By our baptism, Catholics are committed to following Jesus Christ and to be “salt for the earth, light for the nations.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “It is necessary that all participate, according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This is inherent in the dignity of the human person … As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (nos. 1913-1915).
On the issue of Political Advertising, the policy guidelines are clear:
Paid Political Advertising. A Catholic organization may not provide political advertising to a candidate, political party or PAC free, at a reduced rate, or on a selective basis. IRS has stated that acceptance of paid political ads in exempt organization newspapers, periodicals, and other publications generally will not violate the political campaign prohibition, provided: (a) the organization accepts political advertising on the same basis as other non-political advertising; (b) political advertising is identified as paid political advertising; (c) the organization expressly states that it does not endorse any candidate; and (d) advertising is available to all candidates on an equal basis. IRS places particular emphasis on the manner in which political advertising is solicited. One identified negative factor is solicitation of ads from certain candidates that support an organization’s viewpoint, but mere acceptance (without solicitation) of ads from other candidates. It is important to emphasize that once a Catholic organization accepts one paid political advertisement, it cannot selectively decline to accept others. [See: Election Year Issues at 384.]
Factors to be considered in determining whether the provision of paid political advertising constitutes political campaign intervention include: (a) whether advertising is available to candidates in the same election on an equal basis; (b) whether advertising is available only to candidates and not to the general public; (c) whether the fees charged to candidates for advertising are the customary and usual fees; and whether the advertising activity is an ongoing activity or whether it is conducted only for a particular candidate. [See: Rev. Rul. 2007-41 at 1425.]
While it is extraordinarily clear that the Diocese of Fresno was in no way connected with this campaign or this advertisement, my great concern is that many of the faithful will see an image like this with Our Lady, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and make wrongful assumptions about the Church’s backing of Candidate Perez. I would like to see Ms. Perez publicly, in writing, explain her use of Our Lady’s image for political gain and clarify that she does not have the endorsement of the Diocese of Fresno.
Additionally, I would like all of us to take ten minutes today (and longer, if you have the time!) to educate ourselves on our duties and responsibilities as Faithful Citizens and to pray for our elected leaders and for those seeking elective office.
A Question for You: Have you ever seen campaign literature like this poster that infers religious “backing” of a political candidate? How cognisant are you of your duties as a Catholic to be engaged in “faithful citizenship”?