PARTICIPATION IN POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS & LOBBYING
By ANAFP Member Deepak Butani, CPA, LLM
Under the IRS code, nonprofit organizations incorporated under code section 501 C (3) are prohibited from participating in any political activity on behalf of and in opposition to any candidate standing for public office. This includes contribution to political campaigns or statements of position for or against any candidate. Direct and indirect participation on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate is prohibited. This restriction is not intended to curb free expression but rather to maintain the non-partisan purpose for which the not for profit came into being. Not for profit leaders cannot make partisan comments in their official capacity at functions and other public gatherings.
The IRS uses a facts and circumstances approach to determine if the not for profit has violated this prohibition. The IRS will assess the potential misconduct using the context of the organization’s other activities and the current political climate. Examples of an activity that has been held in violation include:
The IRS first asks the violating organization to take correction action and implement internal procedures. Continued violation may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and imposition of certain excise taxes in the most egregious cases.
Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited based on a facts and circumstance standard. Examples include:
A 501 c (3) organization can also risk losing its tax-exempt status if a substantial part of its activities, beyond certain thresholds, involves lobbying activities such as attempting to influence legislation. Legislation includes action taken by the US congress, the state legislature, and any local government body with respect to pending acts, bills, resolutions, and ordinances. This does not include actions by executive, judicial or other administrative institutions. The organization should not urge its constituents to contact legislative representatives and their employees for the purpose of supporting or opposing legislation. Organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare, and distribute educational material or consider and debate on public policy issues without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. Non-compliance will expose the 501 c (3) organization to the risk of loss of not-for-profit status.
Not for profits organized under code Section 501 c (4) of the IRS code are allowed to engage in lobbying activities, issue advocacy or political activity such as through independent expenditures to support or oppose a candidate.