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Will Al Gore jeopardize exemption?

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Will Al Gore jeopardize exemption?

Our charity has chosen to honor Al Gore at a banquet this fall where he will be speaking about global warming and probably promoting cap and trade legislation. If that legislation is under consideration at the time of this event, would we be jeopardizing our 501(c)(3) public charity status?

No.  This is an excellent question to illustrate the difference between lobbying and electioneering.  A 501(c)(3) charity can lose its exemption for participating in an election campaign by supporting or opposing a candidate for election at any level of government.  If Al Gore were a candidate for election, his presentation at your dinner might be considered electioneering.  (See Ready Reference Page: “IRS Issues New Guidance on Electioneering.”)

But since he is not a candidate for office, his presentation on cap and trade legislation, even if imputed to your organization, is at most lobbying.  A public charity is permitted to lobby on legislation so long as it is not a substantial part of its activities.  (See Ready Reference Page:  “Lobbying Rules Create Opportunity for Charities.)  You might distance yourself from lobbying if you explicitly say that you take no position on any specific legislation.   But even if you take a position at the event—assuming you do much of anything else during the year—that action will not constitute a substantial part of your activities. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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