Oral Roberts University officials received notification from the Internal Revenue Service last year of deficiencies in the way the nonprofit school had handled political programs, a spokesman has confirmed.
Three former ORU professors have sued the university, alleging improper involvement in political campaigns, among other issues. The lawsuit alleges that school president Richard Roberts required students in a government class to work on 2006 mayoral candidate Randi Miller’s campaign.
On Monday, school officials denied a request by the Tulsa World for copies of letters between the IRS and ORU regarding an investigation of the university, the newspaper reported. The letters are not public records because ORU is a private institution.
ORU spokesman Jeremy Burton confirmed that ORU was first contacted by the IRS in a letter May 3, 2006.
The letter stated that the IRS was investigating “whether we participated in political programs inappropriately for a 501(c)(3) organization,” Burton said in an e-mail to the Tulsa World.
ORU answered the IRS’ questions and received a follow-up letter with additional questions on July 25, Burton’s e-mail states. The university responded to those questions as well, he said.
“On October 30, 2006, ORU received notification from the IRS accepting the responses as filed and made recommendations to address certain deficiencies. ORU has complied with these recommendations,” the e-mail states.
Besides not releasing the documents, ORU also declined to release any details of what changes the IRS recommended in the university’s political programs, according to the Tulsa World.
ORU President Richard Roberts told the newspaper last week he was aware of the letters, but didn’t know details.
“To my knowledge, there’s no more problem. We’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” Roberts said.
According to an IRS guide to the regulations, all nonprofit entities 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.”
Religious leaders of nonprofit organizations also cannot make “partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions,” the guide states.
Roberts publicly endorsed Miller, but said then that he was doing so as a private citizen and not as an ORU representative. He has denied the lawsuit’s claims that he ordered students to work on Miller’s campaign.
Students in Professor Tim Brooker’s class have worked on numerous campaigns across the country since 2002. Brooker, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, claims those students volunteered and were paid by either the candidates or the Republican National Committee.
Brooker accuses the school of forcing him to resign after he warned Roberts that requiring students to work on Miller’s campaign jeopardized ORU’s tax-exempt status. The IRS investigation began after a complaint was filed, the lawsuit states.
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