Welcome to Charity Navigator's Blog!

The team from Charity Navigator, the nation's largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor advocate, shares their thoughts on emerging nonprofit-sector issues and offers tips to better inform your intelligent giving decisions.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Elections and Public Charities


With the election soon approaching, it is important for charities to know the role in which they can and can’t play in regards to political activities. There are numerous ways in which charities can still be involved in the election process, even with the legal restrictions regarding their involvement. However, (501)(c)(3) public charities need to be aware of their obligations, under federal and state law. Below are two lists put together by Independent Sector, that outline useful and general capabilities of charities.

Things you CAN do as a 501(c)(3) public charity:
  • Continue your normal lobbying on issues
  • Work on behalf of a nonpartisan ballot measure
  • Conduct nonpartisan get-out-the-vote drives and voter registration efforts
  • Conduct nonpartisan public education and information sessions about participation in the political process
  • Make presentations on your organization's issue(s) to platform committees, campaign staff, candidates, media, and the general public
  • Conduct or participate in nonpartisan candidate forum
  • Rent mailing lists and facilities to candidates at fair market value, if made available to all candidates
  • Take advantage of the increased attention that policy issues enjoy during an election period to focus public attention on your organization's issues and agenda so long as these efforts are focused on promoting your organization's viewpoint on the issues, not on promoting the candidates who agree with it's view
  • Prepare and circulate candidate questionnaires and create voter guides if they cover a broad range of issues, the questions are unbiased, and the results are distributed only to your organization's membership. Note that strict rules apply here
  • Publish legislative scorecards for your membership that are part of your continuing lobbying if the scorecards list the votes of all legislators (not just candidates) on issues of interest to your organization. Note that strict rules apply here
  • Encourage your staff to participate as individuals in political campaigns on their own time and not as representatives of the organization

Things you CANNOT Do as a public charity:
  • Endorse or oppose a candidate
  • Coordinate activities with a candidate
  • Contribute money, time, or facilities to a candidate
  • Set up, fund, or manage a 527 / Political Action Committee (PAC)
  • Evaluate candidate positions (except in certain circumstances where the evaluation pertains to a candidate's position on pending legislation that is the subject of lobbying by the organization)
  • Restrict the rental of your mailing lists or facilities to specific candidates, or political parties


Please note that the above content is for general advice, and is not to be referred to as legal guidelines.

No comments: