Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Think Tanks & Election Activities

The NonProfit Times (NPT) has a recent article titled "With Election Around The Corner, Charities Must Tread Carefully."  It discusses 501(c)(3) entities (which most think tanks are) and what types of political activities they are legally allowed to engage in.

Following are some excerpts:

The presidential election is less than 100 days away. Federal tax law strictly prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in activities to support or oppose candidates for public office. However, there are still a number of ways that 501(c)(3)s can be involved in the political process without running afoul of the law.

Unfortunately, the line between prohibited and permissible activities is murky and can be easily crossed if proper managers of the 501(c)(3) are not careful in how they plan and execute the activities. Now might be a good time to review the rules that will help stay on the right side of the line while involved in the process.

If done correctly, 501(c)(3)s can:
  • Help register voters;
  • Conduct get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities;
  • Publish voter guides;
  • Create candidate questionnaires;
  • Host candidate appearances;
  • Host debates;
  • Conduct issue advocacy;
  • Allow leadership and staff to be politically active; and,
  • Create an affiliated organization.
The key is to remember that these activities must be nonpartisan, and not favor one candidate over another.

Here is some more information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about 501(c)(3) think tank restrictions on their lobbying and political activities.