Political activity do’s and don’ts for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations


There are specific rules governing which political activities 501(c)(3) organizations can and can’t take part in. Learning the do’s and don’ts is critical because if you make a misstep, you could end up like the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty. The organization’s tax-exempt status was revoked, effective July 1, 2014, after the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) concluded its investigation into whether the organization engaged in prohibited political intervention.

To ensure your organization complies with all rules and regulations, here are some key do’s and don’ts:

  • Do conduct general advocacy as an educational activity on behalf of your organization.
  • Don’t make contributions to political campaigns or make public statements for or against a candidate (verbal or written).
  • Do lobby on behalf of your organization, but make sure it is not a substantial activity on behalf of your organization.
  • Don’t, under any circumstances, engage in political campaign activity on behalf of your organization. This includes publishing or distributing information for or against candidates.
  • Do advocate for or against ballot initiatives, but not above the level of insubstantial activity.
  • Do encourage people to vote in the election, but be sure to do so in a nonbiased, neutral manner. In other words, your organization can engage in voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, but should refrain from voter education or registration activities.

For more information, here is a presentation from a seminar we hosted on the topic.

Reprinted from the Summer 2014 Compliance Connections Newsletter. Download the complete Summer 2014 issue here

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