A Guide for Nonprofit Leaders During Election Season

Whether you are an executive director of an art museum, dance company, a faith based organization or sports league, if you run a nonprofit organization, election season presents some challenges. The federal primary elections are heating up, and this is a great time to revisit the rules for nonprofit organizations regarding political activity. 

Under the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”), public charities are wholly prohibited from participating in any political campaign on behalf of - or in opposition to - a specific candidate for office.  This prohibition is against direct or indirect activity.  Also, it should be noted that these rules do not pertain only to federal elections, state and municipal elections and candidates are also covered by this rule. 

Participation can mean the contribution of political campaign funds, or any public statement or advocacy specific to any candidate for public office.  Violation of this rule may result in the revocation of the nonprofit’s tax exempt status. 

Certain activities are permitted, however:

  1. Voter education activities in a nonpartisan manner;
  2. Voter registration drives;
  3. Get out the vote drives; 

However, if any of the above activities are undertaken with evidence of bias in favor of - or against  - a particular candidate, then such activity would arguably constitute campaign intervention and thus be prohibited activity. 

Specifically of interest for nonprofit executive directors and CEOs, the prohibition against campaign intervention is not intended to restrict your first amendment rights as a private citizen.  Best practices in this circumstance are to preface any comments you make publicly (whether verbal or in print) that they are your personal beliefs and not intended to represent the views of your organization.  Nonprofit leaders should avoid, however, making any partisan statements at official organization events. 

If you have any questions about political campaign activity and your nonprofit, please contact us today