During election season, colleges and universities with tax-exempt status as 501(c)(3) organizations often struggle with determining compliance with the federal tax law. While the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has not recently released regulations or fact sheets in anticipation of the upcoming election, this is still a good time to reassess your school’s policies and practices regarding election activity at the federal, state, and even local levels.

Prohibited Practices

The following is a list of some of the prohibited practices that may result in the loss of a school’s tax exempt status:

  • Directly or indirectly participating in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate;
  • Contributions to campaign funds;
  • Public statements of a position made by or on behalf of the school;
  • Distribution of statements prepared by others that favor or oppose a candidate; and
  • Permitting a candidate to use an organization’s facilities and not providing other candidates an equivalent opportunity.

Permitted Practices

  • Non-partisan presentation of public forums;
  • Publication of non-partisan voter education guidelines; and
  • Non-partisan encouragement of people to participate in the electoral process through voter registration.

The prohibitions noted above were not developed to restrict political expression by leaders of 501(c)(3) schools when the school leaders are speaking for themselves, as individuals, and not on behalf of the college or university.

For more information view the American Council on Education’s Memorandum regarding political campaign-related activities of and at colleges and universities.