Topeka Ministers who invited Atty. Gen. Phill Kline to their pulpits said Wednesday that the Republican preached the Bible, not politics.
But Kline's leaked campaign memo on "church efforts" showed that Kline saw his Sunday sermons as a way to raise more campaign cash in a tough race against Democrat Paul Morrison.
"Goal is to walk away with contact information, money and volunteers and a committee in each church," Kline wrote in the Aug. 8 four-page memo to his campaign staff.
Those and other instructions have put Americans United for Separation of Church and State on alert.
Jeremy Leaming, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C., watchdog group, said Kline's mixing of politics and religion could jeopardize the churches' tax-free status under Internal Revenue Service rules.
"We do find the memo to be outrageous and irresponsible on the part of the attorney general," Leaming said. "If he cares a lot about his religious base, he shouldn't endanger their financial status."
Campaign defends memo
Under Internal Revenue Service laws, nonprofit organizations, such as churches, generally aren't supposed to collect money or work to endorse specific candidates or political parties.
Kline's campaign has defended his strategy, saying the attorney general is simply working on getting support from his base. And the campaign said there is nothing illegal about speaking at churches.
"Those receptions have been separate," said Sherriene Jones, campaign spokeswoman, referring to the fundraising events.
Jones also said the campaign was concerned that someone illegally acquired the memo and that it had beefed up security.
Churches: Nothing wrong
Kline's memo includes several suggestions to get churches involved in his campaign.
But several ministers contacted by the Lawrence Journal-World said that when Kline took their pulpits, he focused on religion and didn't mention his political race.
Kline spoke Aug. 20 to about 400 people at New Hope Evangelical Church in McPherson.
The Rev. Jim Keil said Kline talked only about his relationship with Jesus Christ.
"I'm a bit amazed at how well this man could preach," Keil said.
The church didn't mention a Kline fundraiser later in town, Keil said.
Darin Putthoff, a minister of a church in Topeka, said Kline spoke before his congregation. Putthoff also said he arranged fundraisers for Kline at his house and the home of a friend.
The fundraisers were relaxed and low key, Putthoff said.
"Phill came to our house one night and hung out for the evening with my friends and neighbors," he said.
Putthoff said the tone of Kline's memo simply reflected how supervisors sometime talk to their employees.
"When you write a memo to office staff, you word it in a dry, blunt way," he said.
But Leaming, with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, warned churches to steer clear of Kline's efforts outlined in the memo.
"Sign up folks to help with lit drops, etc. Some churches have already volunteered to do this," the memo states.
"Must rework Joe Wright and Terry Fox," Kline wrote, referring to two Wichita ministers who led the charge to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
"Must get in their pulpits and have them personally host a reception to match Tiller's blood money," Kline writes, referring to Dr. George Tiller, who owns a Wichita clinic that provides late-term abortions.
Leaming stated, "Inviting politicians into the pulpits during campaign season; it has to be done with great care."