Tax Exempt and Politically Active?

Sojourners/Call to Renewal recently hosted a nationally televised candidates forum with the three leading Democratic presidential contenders. In order to host a forum that provided enough time for a thoughtful and substantive discussion of faith and values, we invited the declared Democratic candidates occupying the top polling positions. We entered into this territory very carefully—frequently consulting an attorney to guide us.

With the election season already on fast-forward, the Internal Revenue Service has again issued its guidance for section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including churches. The bottom line is still that these 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."

However, there are many ways that churches can and should become involved in the democratic process with nonpartisan activities. If your church or organization is planning electoral-related activities, it is always good to check with an attorney before proceeding. You can lose your tax-exempt status if you're not careful, appropriate, and discerning.

The IRS has several "thou shalt nots" when it comes to political involvement. Churches and other (c)(3) organizations are prohibited from making any direct or indirect contributions to candidates. You can't contribute money, but you also can't give free use of your mailing list, free advertising in a newsletter, the use of your building or facilities for campaign work, or the printing of campaign literature. You can't publicly endorse a candidate using organizational resources—from the pulpit, in a newsletter, in a press release, or at a church picnic.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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