Be careful not to support or oppose a specific candidate, or you will be in danger of losing your tax-exempt status! The IRS strictly prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations from participating directly or indirectly in any political campaign on behalf or (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.  With political issues being a heated environment, people supporting an opposing point of view are often the ones reporting you to the IRS.  Even if you do not lose your tax exempt status, the IRS may impose excise taxes.

Some examples that the IRS has found to violate the prohibition on political campaigning include:

  • inviting one political candidate to make a campaign speech at an event hosted by the organization
  • using the organization’s funds to publish materials that support (or oppose) a candidate
  • donating money from the organization to a political candidate
  • any statements by the organization’s executive director, in his or her official capacity, that support a candidate
  • criticizing or supporting a candidate on the organization’s website
  • inviting one candidate to speak at a well-publicized and well-attended event, and inviting the other candidate to speak at a lesser function.
  • inviting all candidates to speak at an event, but arranging the speaking event or choosing the questions in such a way that it is obvious the organization favors one candidate over the others
  • conducting a “get out the vote” telephone drive in a partisan manner by selecting caller responses for further follow-up based on candidates preference, and
  • using the organization’s website to link to only one candidate’s profile.

Some good news is you can continue to educate voters in a nonpartisan manner such as holding public forums or debates that don’t show bias toward any candidate, publishing voter education guides, and advocating for issues important to your organization without linking those issues to a specific candidate as long as these activities fulfill your exempt purpose. 

Remind your employees, executives, board members, and volunteers that while working in an official capacity and/or representing the organization, they should refrain from any oral or written support (including social media comments) of a specific political party or candidate.  Feel free to contact Ketel Thorstenson, LLP if you any concerns regarding political campaigning.