Recent media attention has been given to proposals to repeal the prohibition on political activities by charitable organizations exempt from taxation under IRC 501(c)(3) – commonly referred to as the “Johnson Amendment”. While press coverage focuses on the prohibition as it affects religious organizations, the restrictions apply to every organization recognized as exempt from federal income tax taxation under 501(c)3, and because they are tax-exempt, contributions to such entities are eligible for income tax deductions.
IRS guidance provides activities these organizations, their members and leaders can engage in without running afoul of the Johnson Amendment. In general, “voter education” activities, conducted in a non-partisan manner may not constitute prohibited political activities. Allowable “voter education” activities, include non-partisan voter registration drives, candidates forums providing equal opportunities for candidates to participate and without political fundraising. Elected officials may be freely invited to participate in events, so long as they are acknowledged in their official capacity. Officers and members of these organizations are free to offer their personal endorsements provided they do so in his/her individual capacity, even if the charitable position is identified. Organizations who engage in business activities, such as renting space, may do so, again so long as it is done as a non-partisan regular business activity,
Finally, charitable organizations may take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for political office. Again, so long as the advocacy is on behalf of the entity’s position and not on behalf of or against a particular candidate, (“Call or write Senator H to tell him or her to vote for a particular bill”), the entity may engage in such activity.