There has been a great deal of chatter lately regarding a federal investigation of the Sikh worship center run by Gov. Nikki Haley’s father, Dr. Ajit Randhawa. Speculation on the probe’s target has run anywhere from delinquent taxes to money laundering and tax fraud, with varying accounts of the governor’s own involvement in the temple’s shady finances.
While much of that speculation remains hearsay, at least one piece of the puzzle has been put into place. According to documents obtained by Palmetto Public Record, the Internal Revenue Service has been investigating since March 2011 whether the Sikh Religious Society of South Carolina illegally supported a political candidate during Haley’s campaign for governor, violating the organization’s tax-exempt status.
As a registered nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the Sikh temple is “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for elective public office.” According to the IRS, even written statements of position in favor of a candidate “clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity” and may result in revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.
But documents which appear to be the temple’s own newsletters clearly advocate for Haley’s election, asking (and later thanking) members for their political and financial support. The organization also seems to have held a September 2010 fundraiser for Haley’s gubernatorial campaign, with four of the five organizers listed on the temple’s board of trustees.
Based on the strict rules governing the political activity of tax-exempt non-profits and religious organizations, it’s hard to see how the Sikh society’s flagrant support for Haley’s election could be construed as something other than advocating for a political candidate. And while losing its tax-exempt status could bring a host of financial penalties upon the Haley family’s temple, its political advocacy is actually the most tame legal allegation that could be uncovered by a federal investigation.
Palmetto Public Record is continuing to investigate the accusations surrounding the Sikh temple and its finances. Look for more information as this story develops.