Controversial televangelist Bill Keller is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service for violating federal regulations that prohibit tax-exempt organizations from political partisanship.
Keller, host of a live television program on the Internet, said the IRS investigation was triggered by his criticism of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith.
Keller, 50, said that "a vote for Romney is a vote for Satan." He insists he did nothing to break the law.
"My whole issue with Romney is, just be honest about what your cult believes and quit trying to pass yourself off as a Christian," he said, adding that his responsibility is to educate people about spiritual matters.
Keller could be heading for further trouble. In recent weeks he has stepped up his criticism of presidential candidate Barack Obama.
"He has aggressively marketed himself to the public as a Christian," Keller said during a telephone interview Tuesday. "The problem is in his public statements, he has stated numerous things that are totally inconsistent with the Christian faith."
Keller, who lives in Largo and has his TV studios there, added that his criticism of Obama "has nothing to do with his politics, his race."
The line between religion and partisan politics is blurred, said T. Wayne Bailey, a professor of political science at Stetson University in DeLand.
"I think, in the past, when it became a controversial issue, the authorities have gone far afield to presume in the direction of the right of free expression. So unless someone commits a hard and fast violation, I think … administrations have simply relied on caution rather than punishment."
Keller is not new to controversy. He has parted ways with three television stations after disagreements about his program's content and format. At the beginning of this year, he relaunched his program at LivePrayer.com. He says it has over 2.4-million subscribers around the world.
Keller, who launched his TV program in 2003, has been an ordained minister for the past 17 years. Before that he served 31 months in federal prison for insider trading, completing his sentence in 1992
In February, he said, the IRS gave him a week to assemble documents and videos of his television programs.
Under the law, 501(c)(3) organizations may not participate in or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of, or against any candidate for public office.
Keller said he is prepared to fight if his ministry loses its tax-exempt status.