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POLITICAL CAMPAIGN ACTIVITY AND TAX EXEMPT STATUS
Political activity by
a Church can jeopardize its tax-exempt
status under IRC § 501(c)(3).
Campaign Support or Opposition Prohibited:
A church, as a
tax-exempt organization under Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) §
absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or
in any political campaign in support or opposition to any candidate for
elective public office. See Treasury Regulation
applies to all national (federal), state, or local elective public
See IRS Revenue
(provides concise summary of law, factors, and 21 situational factual
covering a wide range of issues within this topic).
Note: A church
pastor or minister may mention a candidate or a near future election
not speak in favor of (or encourage the congregation to vote for or
against) a particular
or Penalty for Violations of Campaign Advocacy
Even a single
of this law could result in an expensive IRS challenge to (and possible
of) the church’s tax exemption status.
rarely does a violation result in losing tax exempt status. But it can happen. More frequently, certain
tax and other
penalties are imposed (example 10% excise tax on the improper
jumping to 100% for failing to correct the violation.
Individuals can be penalized as well (See
Political Campaign Policy Recommended:
order to help minimize this risk, it is recommended that a Christian or
have and implement written political
campaign policy, mention their position in their bylaws, and train and
educate their people regarding the
Once the policy
is in place, the officers, directors, elders, pastors, clergy, deacons,
and volunteers need to closely hold fast to the Policy.
For example, the
should state that it is unlawful for them to engage in any partisan
during work hours.
Further, they may
not use any of the church corporation's resources for the benefit,
opposition of a political party or political candidate.
This includes, for example, telephones,
faxes, email, mailing lists, offices, sanctuaries, and meeting rooms.
Any policy should
provide that any actual or possible impermissible actions be reported
immediately in writing to the church corporate secretary to be reviewed
Board of Directors / Elder Board. If the Board determines that
exists that the action violate the law, corrections shall be made. Further, the violating
individual(s) shall be
subject to disciplinary procedures including warnings, suspension, or
to Campaign in Individual Capacity:
The law does allow
free expression on political matters by individuals
speaking for themselves
the scope of their work for the church corporation. On
their own time, they may speak or write for
or donate to a particular candidate. They may go to campaign events on
own time. But, when
speaking or writing in
an individual capacity, great care and effort ought to be taken to
that the actions and/or comments are personal and are not intended to
the views of the church.
1. Publicly endorsing
or opposing a particular candidate or
political party in any written or verbal publication or correspondence;
Using a church fax
machine telephone number or email address to
disseminate biased partisan or candidate information;
3. Providing for only
one candidate (to the exclusion of
others) by selling a mailing list, leasing office space, or accepting
4. Links on the
Corporation's website that lead to partisan
or candidate-related material contained on other websites;
political-candidates, partisan organizations, or other organized
influence a political election.
more examples and information, review IRS Fact Sheet-2006-17 and IRS Rev. Ruling 2007-41
which can be found at www.irs.gov.
A tax-exempt church
in certain non-partisan,
educational activities related to political elections such as public
candidate debates, voter registration initiatives, or other
activities. But, of
course, such activities
ought to be carefully planned in order to avoid any actual or perceived
bias. Make sure
that the Board of Directors / Elder
Board approves same before starting same.
entities and churches may create or distribute voter guides, conduct
registration drives and conduct candidate forums or debates as long as
so in a "fair and impartial". "nonpartisan" manner. Rev. Rul. 2007-41 (provides examples and law summary). Rev. Rul.
86-95. See also Rev. Rul. 78-248 (provides
examples); Rev. Rul. 80-282
(timing and distribution of voter education materials); IRS Publ. 1828,
Legislative Lobbying Permitted:
churches may engage in a very limited amount of
legislative lobbying. See Treasury Regulation
§1.501(c)(3)---1(c)(3)(i). They CAN speak
up, advocate, and disseminate education information about critical
economic and other ISSUES.
They can seek to
influence legislation, can urge people to contact their government
and directly contact lawmakers. Prayer vigils can be utilized. But the
must remain primarily engaged in its tax exempt purpose. This lobbying issue is
church should proceed cautiously,
limit the amount of time and money spent, and utilize experienced legal
in this regard.
Candidates May Be Conditionally Invited to Speak
Further note, the IRS
recognizes that political candidates may be involved in the community. Thus, a candidate can be
invited to the
church to be a feature speaker. But
or she should be clearly instructed in writing that he or she: (1) Can speak only in a
non-candidate capacity, (2) Not mention of the candidacy or election;and (3)not
engage any any campaign activity. The event itself should have an
are now again questioning whether such prohibition is constitutional. The courts may be called
on to further sort
out this issue as certain churches and nonprofit organizations seek
redress from such free speech and religion restrictions based on First Amendment and other legal principles.
Christians, we are seek God’s wisdom regarding this issue (Proverbs
3:13-15, 2:6; James 1:5). Christian
churches should consider exercising their rights to prudently
the political process to the full extent that the law allows them to. Further, some will grapple
should choose a path that allows to be silenced as to campaign advocacy
exchange for a tax-exempt status.
See related article: Contact Your Government Officials
Please feel free to contact Christian lawyer, Matthew B. Tozer for
a free initial consultation.
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