Let’s Get Political

The latest view on not-for-profit accounting issues

Whether you’re affiliated with a party or vote as an independent, you’ve probably considered “unfriending” or “unfollowing” some of your more politically opinionated friends on social media due to the relentless long-winded paragraphs and meme posts about Trump’s hair or Sander’s age. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can either get off social media and avoid late night comedy or just try to ignore it.

The controversial issues of 2016, however, are difficult to ignore. Legislation concerning healthcare, potential budget cuts and immigration will heavily effect many charitable organizations. So what do you do if your entity would benefit most from a particular candidate winning the election? NOTHING.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. Activities such as contributing to a campaign or issuing a public statement (verbal or written) on behalf of (or appearing to be on behalf of) the organization in favor of or opposition to a candidate and/or campaign would be a violation of this prohibition.

If you would like to keep your tax exempt status intact and avoid potential excise taxes, pay close attention to the activities of your entity. Monitor your expenses, especially for lobbying, to ensure it is in line with acceptable activities. Edit and control all statements made on behalf of the organization paying special attention to social media.

If there is any question as to if an activity would be a violation, contact your attorney for advice prior to commencement. Candidate/campaign support is one area of not-for-profit regulation that’s “black and white:” You just can’t do it.

By Samantha E. Mahlen, CPA