Political Intervention for a 501(c)(3)

Christian Shaeffer Exempt Non-Profit Organizations Leave a Comment

501(c)(3) Non Profit Organizations (NPO) must be mindful and careful while engaging in certain political activities.  There are very specific guidelines in the Internal  Revenue Code (IRC) that govern these activities.  Infractions of these guidelines can jeopardize your exempt status.

Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) of the IRC shall not incur any expenditure for political intervention (of or for a specific candidate).  Political intervention typically is defined as any activity associated with the direct or indirect support or opposition of a candidate for elective public office at the federal, state, or local level.   Examples include contributions by the NPO to a political action committee or specific campaign or political party, expenditures to produce printed materials or advertisements for or against a particular candidate.

In addition, it’s important to note, NPO’s are not to publicly endorse or discredit any candidate in any manner, either verbally or in writing.  A good “best practice” is to ensure that this policy extends from the board through management and to all other representatives of the NPO.  Also, no assets or human resources of the NPO may be used for any of the political activities described above (for example using the NPO’s printing press or copier, or using the cafeteria to host an event).  Of course, there are virtually no restrictions on political activities for NPO staff on their personal time (though they should be mindful of their position).

Permitted Actions – Unlike political intervention described above, 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to incur expenditures for lobbying activities on a specific issue or other advocacy to positively influence public policy, in a manner consistent with the NPO’s Mission.  Written and verbal public endorsement of a specific issue or advocacy is also permitted under 501(c)(3) of the IRC.  Keep in mind, lobbying expenditures shall be reported separately on form 990, and no federal dollars can be used for lobbying expenditures (the NPO must use non federal dollars).

This is only a guideline, be sure to check with an experienced tax attorney or CPA regarding your specific situation.

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