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Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) stump speeches have been equated to a celestial choir, but when it comes to the Internal Revenue Service, his oratory had best stay out of the heavens. At the end of February, the IRS launched an investigation into whether a speech Obama gave at the United Church of Christ’s national General Synod in June 2007 violated the agency’s rules for tax-exempt organizations, which are not allowed to engage in political activity. An anonymous complaint was filed to the IRS in mid-August alleging that Obama’s speech on the intersection of faith and government constituted a campaign event. Obama, who is a member of the church, was asked to speak at the event before he announced his candidacy. Last week, the church retained some big players at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr to represent it in the inquiry. Wilmer partners Seth Waxman, the former U.S. solicitor general; Randolph Moss, co-chair of the government and regulatory litigation practice; William Wilkins, the chair-elect of the American Bar Association’s Section of Taxation; and counsel Brian Menkes, who is the former chair of the Taxation Section of the D.C. Bar, are working on the matter pro bono. “In light of the important principles raised here for faith-based communities, we are delighted that the United Church of Christ called us and that we will be able to represent the denomination,” says Waxman, who has contributed $2,300 to Obama’s campaign and $2,300 to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s bid. Moss has donated $1,000 to Clinton. The IRS would not comment on the investigation.
Attila Berry can be contacted at [email protected].

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