To All Neighborhood Organizations:
With the City’s general election less than a year away, there have been a lot of questions about how neighborhood organizations can be involved in increasing voter registration, turnout and education. You can download a copy of NCR’s guide on Neighborhood Organizations and Elections, which answers many of these questions, at this link: http://tinyurl.com/nhood-orgs-and-elections.
I especially want to remind you that your contracts with the City state that your organization may not engage in political activity. Partisan political activity is also absolutely prohibited by the Internal Revenue Service for all 50l(c)(3) organizations. The City uses the same rules as the IRS in our oversight of the political activities of organizations.
The IRS states that 50l(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” Whether an organization is engaging in prohibited political campaign activity depends on the facts and circumstances in each case. The IRS rules state that the motivation of an organization is not relevant in determining whether the political campaign prohibition has been violated.
The IRS rules cover the publishing of information in organizations’ publications, advertisements in these publications, speakers at organizational events and meetings, and the acts of individuals in their capacity as officers of an organization.
Any activities related to candidates or campaigns for political office must be conducted in a non-partisan manner. For instance, if one candidate is allowed to speak at a meeting of the organization, then all other legally qualified candidates for the same office should be invited to speak. All candidates must be given an equal amount of time on the agenda. Similarly, if a forum is sponsored by the organization, then all candidates must be invited, questions must be prepared and presented in a non-partisan manner, the topics discussed should cover a broad range of issues of interest to the public, each candidate must have the opportunity to present his or her views on the issues discussed, and the moderator must not comment on the questions or otherwise make comments that imply approval or disapproval of any of the candidates or their responses.
Since the IRS prohibition is an absolute bar, it would be wise for your organization to avoid any activity that even hints at partisan participation in a political campaign. If your organization does have an interest in some level of participation in the election process, however, it is strongly suggested that you contact an attorney to ensure that your activity is not a violation of the ban on political activity. Any violation of this ban could result in the revocation of your organization’s tax-exempt status and the cancellation of your organization’s contracts with the City.
Here are some examples from recent years that may put your organization at risk:
- A candidate shows up at a neighborhood meeting and asks for time to discuss their candidacy. Note that allowing a candidate to even mention their candidacy could violate the IRS’ absolute bar on political activity. We recommend immediately informing the candidate that, while they are welcome to participate, they may not campaign or mention their candidacy in any form.
- Conducting a candidate forum prior to an endorsing convention can violate the absolute bar, since it would appear to be favoring a group of candidates (e.g., those seeking endorsement from a particular party). We recommend not holding a candidate forum until after the deadline for candidate filings.
- Introducing an elected official at a neighborhood meeting as a candidate and encouraging (or discouraging) support for that candidate. While an elected official can present at your event in their capacity as an elected official, you should not refer to their candidacy in any way.
Please see the guide on Neighborhood Organizations and Elections for more information, and contact your Neighborhood Support Specialist here at NCR with any questions you may have.
Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations
ADA Title II Coordinator