Charitable Organizations and the Election

Unless you’re hiding under a rock you know that in less than three months there will be an election for President (and many other offices). EideBailly has a timely reminder today that a 501(c)(3) organization (a charitable organization) cannot support one candidate over another. This is for all 501(c)(3) organizations including private foundations.

So what does this cover? It includes the obvious (making political contributions, endorsing candidates, or speaking in favor or against a candidate) and some less obvious items (leasing space to a political campaign and using the organization’s mailing or email list for a campaign). There’s no de minimis rule, so if your 501(c)(3) gives $1 to the Trump or Biden campaigns, you could lose your 501(c)(3) status. (The EideBailley article also covers what 501(c)(3) organizations can do.)

There’s a corollary that is briefly noted in the article that I want to emphasize: Officers (and employees) of 501(c)(3) charitable organizations must be very careful about their public statements for (or against) any candidate or cause. Let’s say that I have a 501(c)(3) private foundation, and I’m for Assemblyman Smith in her candidacy for Nevada State Senate. I publicly endorse her. Of course, I, as an individual, can endorse whomever I wish. But I’m also an officer of a 501(c)(3). In my endorsement, did I note that this was my endorsement, and that nothing I’m saying is attributable to the Russell Fox Foundation? Am I careful doing that in all social media?

From a practical sense, it’s unlikely the IRS would go after a private foundation. But they can, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re an officer of a 501(c)(3) organization, it’s an excellent idea to make sure all officers and employees are aware of the rules.

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