Navigating Election Season and Following 501(c)(3) Election Rules

In the run-up to Election Day, it is almost impossible to avoid seeing yard signs, billboards, and television commercials endorsing an assortment of candidates running for local, state, and federal offices. It can often seem like just about everyone has an opinion on the direction the country must take.

However, not everybody can speak freely about partisan politics. There is one group that must be very careful about their words and actions during election season – 501(c)(3) organizations.

The IRS has some strict 501(c)(3) Election Rules about how charitable entities of this nature can behave as Election Day draws near.

Prohibited Political Activities for 501(c)(3) Organizations

Everybody who runs or works in a 501(c)(3) charitable organization would be wise to make themselves aware of the activities that they mustn’t take part in during the weeks and months leading up to a general election.

A short sampling of some of the actions that nonprofit entities frequently get into trouble for would include:

  • Making financial contributions to the campaign of a candidate for elected office
  • Donating staff hours to the campaign of a candidate for elected office
  • Issuing statements of support for a candidate for elected office to the press
  • Providing a forum in which a candidate for elected office may speak
  • Using charity stationery to make favorable or unfavorable statements about a candidate for elected office

The list of political activities prohibited by the IRS is long and somewhat confusing. So, if you aren’t sure whether your organization’s next project is likely to land you in trouble with the government, you would be wise to speak with a skilled San Diego nonprofit attorney before moving forward.

Consequences of Violating the 501(c)(3) Political Ban

The IRS issues severe penalties to 501(c)(3) organizations that violate its political ban. The exact nature of the punishment usually depends on the severity of the transgression.

For minor violations, the IRS typically doles out fines. In most instances, these fines amount to thousands of dollars.

For more serious transgressions, however, the IRS can revoke a charity’s tax-exempt status. It may also prevent the directors of the organization from creating a new nonprofit organization in the future.

Acceptable Activities for 501(c)(3) Organizations During Election Season

Though 501(c)(3) entities must be careful about their actions as Election Day approaches, they do not need to pretend that they are apolitical. IRS regulations permit them to engage in activities such as:

  • Lobbying in support of or in opposition to a piece of legislation
  • Encouraging people to vote in the upcoming election
  • Holding a debate in which they do not express support for either candidate or their policies
  • Encouraging staff to engage in political activity in their personal time

As long as charitable groups stick with these types of activities, they should not have any issues with the IRS.

A San Diego Nonprofit Attorney You Can Count On

If you run a charitable organization and need more information about the 501(c)(3) political ban, please do not hesitate to reach out to the team at the Semanchik Law Group. Our attorneys have been assisting nonprofits with compliance issues for years – and we would be more than happy to provide you with the help you need. To set up a free consultation, all you need to do is give us a call at (619) 535-1811 or contact us online.