One of the alumni of our 501(c)(3) leadership development organization is running for public office and has asked for our support. Two directors have recommended that we share the alumni contact info with the aspiring politician. I'm concerned that we could quickly and easily get in trouble and could be seen as partisan. How can we be supportive of our alumni and avoid legal and perceptual complications?
You are correct to be concerned, not only because of the perceptual issue but also because a 501(c)(3) charitable organization can lose its exemption if it participates in a political election campaign by supporting or opposing a candidate for public office. Therefore, you should not endorse your alum or contribute to the campaign. Candidates don’t always understand this and expect contributions and other support, but you have to stand fast and explain that you can’t be helpful in this regard.
The IRS has ruled, however, that you may share mailing list type data with candidates so long as it is equally available to all candidates at customary and usual rates and not available only for a particular candidate. (See Ready Reference Page: “IRS Issues New Guidance on Electioneering”) If you set the precedent by giving (or selling) info to this alum, you will want to follow the same procedures for others in this and other elections. You don’t want to be accused of making a special exception for this alum.