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How To Remain In Compliance As A 501(c)(3) When Engaged In Politics

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If you are running a 501(c)(3) charity, there are certain political activities that you are restricted from participating in by the IRS. If your organization is involved in politics in any capacity, it is a good idea to consult with a charity compliance lawyer to make sure you aren't violating the rules of the IRS.

The Consequences of Non-Compliance

If you are no longer in compliance with IRS regulations, you may have your tax-exempt status revoked, and you may have certain taxes imposed on you. However, there are some political activities that you are allowed to engage in.

Political Activities You May Not Engage In

You are not allowed to participate directly in political campaigns. This includes showing opposition to a particular candidate. As a result, you will want to take this issue very seriously by working with an attorney to make sure that your organization is always in compliance.

The type of offices that a candidate can be running for can range from a campaign to become the president of the United States to an election for a local school board. Any action you take that could be seen as supporting this candidate can be considered a violation.

Why Context Matters

The time in which you engage in certain activities can determine whether you are contributing to that individual's campaign. For example, merely inviting a candidate to speak at an event can be considered a campaign contribution. 

However, you may have a relationship with an individual who ran for office in 2018 and lost. Then, you may choose to invite them in 2021 to speak at an event hosted by your non-profit while they are currently not campaigning. Then, they may announce that they will be running for office in 2022. Depending on when they announce, you may be able to allow the candidate to speak without violating regulations.

When To Hire a Compliance Lawyer

You will want to hire a lawyer who can offer consultation when you are considering publishing materials that could be seen as an act of supporting the candidate, when an executive director wishes to make a statement about the candidate, or when you wish to conduct a "get-out-and-vote" campaign.

While you are allowed to conduct a campaign to increase voter turn-out, you must not do so while screening caller responses based on candidate preferences. With each action you take, consult with an attorney to make sure that you are not in violation.