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May religious leaders support – not endorse – candidates?

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May religious leaders support – not endorse – candidates?

A group of religious leaders in the same state and same denomination form a 501(c)(3) entity separate from their individual churches with one of the purposes to support - not endorse - local political candidates selected after an interview process which is open to all candidates. Is this allowed under 501(c)(3)?

No. Section 501(c)(3) provides that an organization may not “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” The IRS interprets that language broadly and says it may be a participation even to suggest the organization’s position on an election. (See Ready Reference Page: “IRS Issues New Guidance on Electioneering.”) It sounds like whatever these leaders might do to “support” a candidate would cross the line and violate the IRS rules for a (c)(3). They might want to support candidates individually or through another type of organization, and use the 501(c)(3) for religious or other charitable activities. 
 
They also need to remember that there may be campaign finance statutes that preclude their organization from participating in an election, violation of which could cause criminal sanctions.
Thursday, February 19, 2009

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