In any election year, colleges and universities should review their controls and procedures for compliance with the prohibition on campaign intervention under IRC Section 501(c)(3). The Internal Revenue Service imposed strict rules on the use of an institutions` facilities and resources for political purposes.
All Section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. Listed below are several activities colleges and universities are permitted to conduct without running afoul of statutory prohibitions:
- Conducting training programs designed to increase public understanding of the electoral process or to encourage citizens to become involved in the process.
- Preparing and distributing a compilation of voting records on major legislative issues that involve a wide range of topics, without political skew and editorial opinion.
- Conducting public opinion polls with respect to issues (rather than candidates.
- Providing access to air time on a university-owned radio station on an equal basis to all legally qualified candidates for a public office, consistent with Federal Communications Commission standards.
- Providing opportunities to speak at college or university events on an equal basis to all legally-qualified candidates for a public office.
- Public statements, oral or written, by institutional officials are only permitted if comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the institution.
This list contains illustrative activities that are permitted. A college or a university should always consult with a tax professional before taking any actions in this area.
“Political Campaign-Related Activies of and at Colleges and Universities.” American Council on Education. IRS. September 2011. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.
This advice is not intended or written to be used for, and it cannot be used for, the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties that may be imposed, or for promoting, marketing or recommending to another person, any tax-related matter.
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