Don’t Cross the Line

Looking ahead to this year’s mid-term elections, charities may want to take time now to review some dos and don’ts. The line between permissible issue advocacy and prohibited campaign activity is very fine.

Issues

You can advocate for your position on policy issues as long as your advocacy doesn’t reach the level of campaign intervention. This can be tricky because it’s possible to discuss an issue in a way that subtly suggests support of or opposition to a certain candidate, which is a prohibited political activity. Even references to a particular political party could be construed as indirect support or opposition. To avoid running afoul of tax law restrictions, take an unbiased, educational approach. Neutrality in content, wording, questioning, issues for discussion, etc.  is key.

Speaking Out

Public speeches present another potential pitfall. Meet with board members and leaders who routinely speak on behalf of your organization to review political intervention rules. Include everyone who might speak publicly during the election cycle. Stress that if they make partisan statements in public, they must make it clear that the sentiments expressed are their personal opinion and do not reflect the views of the organization.

Candidates

You can invite candidates to address your organization in a nonpolitical capacity. For example, you might have a candidate speak because he or she is an expert on a nonpolitical topic or has a distinguished career in public service or the military.

You can also invite candidates to address your group in a political capacity, but proceed carefully and be sure you follow these guidelines:

  • Provide opposing candidates with an equal opportunity to speak.
  • Make certain the event does not indicate support for or opposition to any candidate.
  • Do not allow any political fundraising to take place.

Be cautious about conducting business activities with a candidate that could be construed as supporting his or her campaign (e.g., renting or selling your mailing list, accepting advertising, leasing office space, etc.).

Online

Posting material on your organization’s website is the same as distributing it in print or making a public statement.