Ex-candidate who lost race for Congress in Arkansas regains tax exemption on Texas house

Posted: June 19, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Randy Caldwell, who lost his race for Congress in Arkansas last month, has regained tax-exempt status for the house his ministry owns in League City, Texas.

An independent appraisal review board reversed the decision of the Galveston Central Appraisal District, determining that Randy Caldwell Ministries is entitled to a clergy exemption that was revoked during the campaign.

The board decided that the 4,405-square-foot house can be classified as a "clergy residence" because Caldwell's daughter lives there and serves as the ministry's executive director.

The home was appraised at $403,480.

Under Texas Property Tax Code Section 11.20, a ministry can claim an exemption for a clergy residence if it is "used exclusively as a residence for those individuals whose principal occupation is to serve in the clergy of the religious organization."

Without the exemption, taxes for 2017 would've been $10,155.19.

The Houston Chronicle first reported about the ruling.

According to the ministry's website, "Randy Caldwell Ministries has been based in Cabot, Arkansas since 1995, and he lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas with his wife Renee."

But during his Galveston County testimony Thursday, Caldwell said he'd only been a renter in Arkansas. While acknowledging that his nonprofit organization has an office in Cabot, Caldwell said the ministry's "legally recorded" address is still the League City location.

"Randy Caldwell Ministries has never left. I can bring you the bills that we pay monthly that I'm still ... I mean, that's where we live. That's where the ministry is. And my daughter, who's executive director of that ministry, and that's where she has always lived since November 2003," he said, according to a recording by the Houston Chronicle.

During the hearing, Caldwell repeatedly criticized the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for asking questions about the ministry's Texas property tax status. He noted that the revocation occurred after the paper inquired about the exemption.

But officials at the review board hearing pointed to Caldwell's own website, noting it claims Caldwell lives in Arkansas and leads an Arkansas-based ministry.

"That was a campaign website," Caldwell replied, incorrectly characterizing his ministry site.

"But you ultimately had responsibility for it," one official responded.

The review board declined to reach a decision initially, requesting more information about the ministry employment of Caldwell's daughter.

After receiving additional documentation from the evangelist, the board restored the tax exemption.

"He provided documentations showing that her primary income came from the ministry, and we gave that to the board members and they made a decision and granted the exemption," Tommy Watson, the district's chief appraiser, told the Chronicle.

Caldwell, a Republican, told voters that God had told him to run for Congress. He received 20.1 percent of the Arkansas vote in the 4th Congressional District primary May 22, losing to U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs. The Pentecostal evangelist filed a property tax appeal with officials in Galveston County, Texas, the following day.

Caldwell declined the Chronicle's request Thursday for comment. He did not respond Monday afternoon to a Democrat-Gazette email seeking comment.

Metro on 06/19/2018